Tariffs on course to be imposed, Trump officials say
President Donald Trump remains on course to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from around the world by the end of the week, despite threats that other countries will retaliate and Republican warnings the move could hurt the U.S. economy, senior U.S. officials said on Sunday.
“I don’t know exactly what day because the lawyers are working away, but sometime this week,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on ABC’s “This Week.”
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Both Ross and White House trade officer Peter Navarro, who appeared on several Sunday news shows, said they had no reason to believe that Trump would exclude allies such as Canada, the European Union, Japan and South Korea from the proposed 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum.
“As soon as he starts exempting countries, he has to raise the tariff on everybody else,” Navarro said in a combative interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “As soon as he exempts one country, his phone starts ringing from the heads of state of other countries.”
However, Navarro said there would be a process through which companies could ask for a particular steel or aluminum product to be exempted from tariffs if they cannot get it from a domestic producer.
“There will be an exemption procedure for particular cases, where we need to have exemptions, so that business can — can move forward. But, at this point in time, there will be no country exclusions,” Navarro said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Trump is imposing the tariffs as a result of a nine-month investigation that found that current volumes of steel and aluminum imports are a threat to national security because they undermine the long-term viability of both industries. But most other nations see that as a thinly disguised excuse to take protectionist measures.
His announcement that he planned to impose tariffs came amid a bitter fight inside the White House between officials who believe in free trade, as many Republicans do, and those who want to aggressively crack down on what they see as unfair practices. Despite the strong commentary from Navarro and Ross on Sunday, the free-trade types inside the administration, led by National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, hope they still have time to change Trump’s mind, according to people close to them.
The officials believe the White House will ultimately allow significant exemptions and will not impose the tariffs across the board. Cohn threatened to quit last week if Trump entered a full-scale trade war but did not view the president’s brief remarks on Thursday as a final straw, according to a person familiar with his thinking.
Cohn and some other officials at the National Economic Council and inside the Treasury Department, are continuing to make to the case to Trump that blunt tariffs will damage the U.S. economy, tank the stock market and invite fierce retaliation from Europe, Mexico, Canada and other key U.S. allies.
British Prime Minister Theresa May discussed the issue in a phone call with Trump on Sunday and “raised our deep concern at the president’s forthcoming announcement on steel and aluminum tariffs, noting that multilateral action was the only way to resolve the problem of global overcapacity in all parties’ interests,” a spokesperson for May’s office said.
The European Union has threatened to retaliate on 2.8 billion euros worth of American exports if Trump moves ahead with the steel and aluminum tariffs, targeting products such as bourbon made in the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Harley-Davidson motorcycles from the home state of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
Trump upped the ante Saturday, threatening to raise tariffs on the EU’s auto exports to the United States if it retaliates against steel and aluminum tariffs.
The prospect of a trans-Atlantic trade war prompted two senators on Sunday to caution that Moscow and Beijing would be the prime beneficiaries.
“The president’s new enthusiasm for opening up a trade war with Europe is also a gift to Russia, which loves it when the United States and Europe start to split,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said on “This Week.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) underscored that point, since the proposed tariffs would hit China relatively lightly, even though it is widely blamed for creating turmoil in global steel and aluminum markets by ramping up production over the past 20 years.