Trump Intent On Kicking Off Tariff Showdown Despite Widespread Concerns

Glen Norman
March 11, 2018

Donald Trump formally adopted new tariffs on steel and aluminium imports on Thursday while allowing U.S. allies to apply for exemptions, a sign of growing concern in Washington that the president was alienating America's closest worldwide partners.

Trump's impromptu announcement he intends to slap 25% import taxes on steel and 10% on aluminium has sparked a revolt within his own Republican party, pushed a top aide to quit, and angered major trading partners who vowed retaliation.

Trump kept Canada and Mexico as potential tariff targets because that served USA interests in winning concessions in ongoing NAFTA negotiations. "Steel is steel. You don't have steel, you don't have a country".

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recommended that Trump consider instituting a tariff of at least 7.7 percent on all aluminum exports from all countries, setting a 23.6 percent tariff on all aluminum products from China, Hong Kong, Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam and making them subject to quotas, or imposing a quota on all aluminum imports from countries equal to a maxium of 87 percent of their 2017 exports to the U.S. The president campaigned on a promise to bring back American jobs and put US interests first when it comes to worldwide trade. His trade adviser Peter Navarro said in a television interview on Wednesday that Canada and Mexico would be excluded for now as negotiations continue on the North American Free Trade Agreement. We'll be doing something with some other countries, he said.

"We're going to build our steel industry back, and we're going to build our aluminum industry back", Trump said during a White House meeting last Thursday.

Trump said a strong steel and aluminium industry are vital to USA national security.

His Twitter message, promising "great flexibility and cooperation" with USA allies, signaled Trump is willing to exclude some countries from the tariffs for national security reasons.

China, world's second largest economy, will take measures to defend its legitimate rights and interests, he said China urged the United States to respect the multilateral trade system and revoke the policy as soon as possible, Wang said.

Non-US governments, and particularly democracies, "are under enormous pressure not to be seen to be caving to the Trump administration", because of his unpopularity overseas, said Timothy Meyer, an worldwide trade specialist and law professor at Vanderbilt University. "Global steel producers who have previously exported to the USA no longer can, because the prices are too high as a result of the tariffs", he added.

"I'm not saying every single one will be dealt with", Mnuchin said in response to questions from reporters in NY.

Last year, China's steel exports to the United States constituted about 2.9 per cent of the 35.6 million tonnes of the metal imported annually by America.

The government will push for an exemption to newly-announced U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminium, the Finance Minister says.

"Many of the countries that treat us the worst on trade and on military are our allies as they like to call them", he said at the White House, flanked by steel and aluminum workers and administration officers.

Navarro said tariffs for other countries' steel and aluminum would go into effect in 15 to 30 days.

European Commissioner Malmstrom, who coordinates policy for the 28-nation EU, the world's biggest trading bloc, said she stood ready to go to the WTO, the worldwide trade arbiter, to impose the bloc's own safeguards within 90 days.

"We're comfortable that we're going to manage through this so that it is not detrimental to our growth projections", he told Fox Business.

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