Trump blasted at home and abroad for plan to impose steel, aluminum tariffs
President Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum reverberated across the world Thursday, spurring retaliatory threats from some of the nation’s closest allies and sending stock prices plummeting on investors’ fears of the global economic fallout.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called Trump’s decision “a blatant intervention to protect U.S. domestic industry” under the guise of national security. He said he would submit a proposal in the next few days to hit back at the U.S.
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“We will not sit idly while our industry is hit with unfair measures that put thousands of European jobs at risk,” Juncker said. “The EU will react firmly and commensurately to defend our interests.”
The timing of the announcement also embarrassed Mexico and Canada, longtime allies and trading partners, which are in the midst of the seventh round of talks with the U.S. to renegotiate NAFTA.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said any restrictions against Canadian steel imports would be “absolutely unacceptable.” She noted that Canada, a longtime U.S. ally and trading partner, buys more American steel than any other country in the world, accounting for half of U.S. exports.
“Should restrictions be imposed on Canadian steel and aluminum products, Canada will take responsive measures to defend its trade interests and workers,” she said.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 420 points after rising more than 150 points earlier in the day. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq both declined 1.3 percent.
Trump unveiled the planned tariffs, to be finalized next week, during a listening session at the White House with steel and aluminum industry leaders after a chaotic 24-hour period of debate among key members of his administration who appeared to push conflicting agendas.
The president’s decision, which fulfills a campaign promise to get tough on U.S. trading partners, pivots off of a pair of Commerce Department investigations that determined imports of steel and aluminum are eating away at domestic production capacity in those two sectors and pose a threat to U.S. national security interests.
“People have no idea how badly our country has been treated by other countries, by people representing us that didn’t have a clue,” Trump said. “Or if they did, then they should be ashamed of themselves because they’ve destroyed the steel industry, they’ve destroyed the aluminum industry, and other industries, frankly, when you look at all the plants, the car plants, automobile plants that moved down to Mexico for no reason whatsoever, except we didn’t know what we were doing.”
During the meeting, there was no talk of targeting specific countries, like China, which has flooded the United States with cheap metals — or granting exemptions to allies such as Canada, Mexico and members of the European Union, according to a transcript of the meeting released by the White House and the industry executives who were present.
Other important details remained up in the air, including how long the tariffs would be in effect. But Trump told industry executives at the meeting that “you’ll have protection for a long time, in a while. You’ll have to regrow your industries, that’s all I’m asking.”
Trump’s announcement came while Chinese President Xi Jinping’s chief economic adviser, Liu He, was in Washington for a White House meeting with key Cabinet officials. The Chinese government did not issue a formal response. But Wang Hejun, an official in charge of China’s trade remedy division, said last month that the Commerce Department reports that led to Trump’s announcement reached conclusions that “have no basis and are totally against the facts.”
“If the final decision of the U.S. affects China’s interests, China will definitely take necessary measures to safeguard its legitimate rights,” Wang said.
A Japanese steel industry official said retaliatory measures were a real concern.
“The 25 percent across-the-board tariff on foreign steel is ill-advised and naive,” said Tadaaki Yamaguchi, chairman of the Japan Steel Information Center, an industry group, in a statement. “It will inevitably invite retaliation from America’s most reliable allies, ultimately hurting American non-manufacturing industries as well.”
Some of the harshest initial reactions came from members of Trump’s own party, who have traditionally championed free trade.