President Trump, in defiance of senior members of his staff, members of his own party on Capitol Hill and a slew of foreign governments, has signed into effect sweeping new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
The President signed a proclamation at the White House today that place the higher duties into effect in two weeks, on March 23rd.
The President framed the decision as a matter of national security.
In referencing an assessment made by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, the President signed a proclamation today that read, “The Secretary found that the present quantities of steel articles imports …are ‘weakening our internal economy,’ resulting in the persistent threat of further closures of domestic steel production facilities and the ‘shrinking [of our] ability to meet national security production requirements in a national emergency.’”
“Because of these risks and the risk that the United States may be unable to ‘meet [steel] demands for national defense and critical industries in a national emergency,’” the President said he ultimately decided to impose the tariffs.
Carving out exemptions for countries in special circumstances, Trump announced that Canada and Mexico would be excluded. Trump had written earlier in the week that exemptions for Canada and Mexico would be granted only if a more equitable version of NAFTA is signed between the three countries.
The North American Free Trade Agreement, at the demands of the President, is currently being renegotiated between the three countries. The latest round, the seventh, just concluded in Mexico City.
In addition to the exemptions announced today for Canada and Mexico, the President said that the tariffs are structured in such a way that countries can be taken off the list or added to it. The tariffs, 25% for steel imports and 10% for aluminum, can also be decreased for a particular country or for all countries as a whole.
The proclamation also states that if any country can demonstrate an alternate way in which the security risk posed by their steel imports can be mitigated, the President may remove or modify the tariff for that country.
“Any country with which we have a security relationship is welcome to discuss with the United States alternative ways to address the threatened impairment of the national security caused by imports from that country,” it states.
Officials in Washington had urged the President to back off of his position originally announced last week. Many believe that that the move is going to elicit in-kind responses from foreign countries against American products, and ultimately hurt American workers.
One hundred and seven Republican members of Congress signed a letter to the President this week asking him to reconsider.
“We are writing to express deep concern about the prospect of broad, global tariffs on aluminum and steel imports,” the letter reads. “Because tariffs are taxes that make U.S. businesses less competitive and U.S. consumers poorer, any tariffs that are imposed should be designed to address specific distortions caused by unfair trade practices in a targeted way while minimizing negative consequences on American businesses and consumers.”
The President’s Chief Economic Adviser Gary Cohn also resigned this week. While officials stress there was no one reason that served as the catalyst for his resignation, it’s believed the President’s decision on the tariffs, which Cohn opposed fiercely, played a role in the decision.
In the end however, all of the criticism was not enough to dissuade the President. At a cabinet meeting prior to the signing of the order the President said his administration was going to be “very fair” and “very flexible” to other countries on whom the tariffs will be imposed.
But he reiterated protecting American industry was his main goal. “We’re going to protect the American worker as I said I would do in my campaign,” he said, adding that steel and aluminum were the “backbone of our nation” and the “bedrock of our defense and industrial base.”