Trump decides on steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports
President Donald Trump on Thursday ignited a possible trade war by announcing a decision to impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum to protect both industries from unfairly traded imports that the Commerce Department has determined pose a threat to national security.
“It’ll be 25 percent for steel. It will be 10 percent for aluminum. It’ll be for a long period of time,” Trump said at a listening session with steel and aluminum industry executives at the White House. “We’ll be signing it next week. And you’ll have protection.”
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The announcement, which is likely to be met with outrage and retaliation from countries around the world, followed a fierce debate within the administration about whether to make an announcement Thursday, according to people briefed on the matter. New tariffs on steel and aluminum imports could lead to a tit-for-tat trade fight with China, the European Union and other major world trade powers.
The internal debate made for a hectic morning at the White House, as administration officials were trying to figure out what exactly Trump was planning to say at the meeting — and some in the West Wing were strongly encouraging the president not to announce the planned tariffs.
Senior Treasury Department officials on Thursday morning were prepared for Trump to announce major tariffs and were deeply worried about market reaction.
Trump and Ross were joined at the listening session by chief of staff John Kelly; Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer; National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn; White House adviser Jared Kushner; Deputy White House Staff Secretary Derek Lyons; White House trade adviser Peter Navarro; White House counsel Don McGahn; and domestic policy adviser Stephen Miller.
Cohn has been arguing vociferously behind the scenes against the tariffs. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have all also raised concerns about the planned actions, arguing that they could damage the United States’ relationship with crucial allies.
But Trump has long been dead-set on imposing tariffs, and he has the support of the trade hawks in his administration, including Navarro, Lighthizer and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. The debate within the administration has raged for months and pitted Trump’s top aides against one another.
Trump’s final decision marks the culmination of a nearly 11-month investigation into whether imports of steel and aluminum posed a threat to U.S. national security.
Shortly before he resigned amid domestic abuse allegations, White House staff secretary Rob Porter got into a heated argument about the tariffs with Navarro in the Oval Office in front of the president, according to a person familiar with the issue.
Cohn and Porter had worked together for months to try to postpone, kill or narrow the scope of the tariffs. Porter organized weekly trade meetings at the White House to discuss the tariffs and other main issues in a bid to give the debate a more formal structure.
But Porter’s resignation removed a fierce opponent of the tariffs from the West Wing and revived the chaotic policy review process that defined the early weeks of Trump’s presidency.
Foreign trading partners have already promised swift retribution if they are caught in any major tariff action.
EU trade chief Cecilia Malmström warned earlier this week that the 28-nation trading bloc, a major producer of steel, was discussing different options. “If he hits hard, we will have to take countermeasures,” the commissioner said after arriving at a meeting of EU trade ministers this week.