Trump Signs Tariff Order on Metals With Wiggle Room for Allies

 In U.S.
President Donald Trump followed through on his pledge to impose stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, while excluding Canada and Mexico and leaving the door open to sparing other countries on the basis of national security.

The president signed a proclamation authorizing the tariffs at a meeting Thursday afternoon with workers from the steel and aluminum industries. The U.S. will levy a 25 percent duty on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, the same level Trump promised when he revealed the plan March 1. The tariffs will take effect in 15 days.

Trump signs a proclamation on adjusting imports of steel on March 8.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

“Today I’m defending America’s national security by placing tariffs on foreign imports of steel and aluminum,” Trump said, flanked by workers from the industries and economic advisers who had backed the plan.

The president warned there would be more tariffs coming, saying he planned to proceed with what he has called “reciprocal taxes” on imports from countries that charge higher duties on U.S. goods than the U.S. now charges on their products. “We’re going to be doing a lot of that,” he said.

Read more: Trump Doubles Down on Reciprocal Tax Proposal

The president said U.S. political leaders preceding him had allowed the decline of manufacturing in the nation, and cited a protectionist predecessor, Republican President William McKinley, in defense of the tariffs. “Our factories were left to rot and to rust all over the place,” Trump said.

Fellow Republicans harshly criticized the measures. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona said the “so-called ‘flexible tariffs’ are a marriage of two lethal poisons to economic growth –protectionism and uncertainty.” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah said, “Simply put: This is a tax hike on American manufacturers, workers and consumers.”

“I disagree with this action and fear its unintended consequences,” House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said in a statement. “There are unquestionably bad trade practices by nations like China, but the better approach is targeted enforcement against those practices.”

Gary Cohn, the National Economic Council director who announced his resignation on Tuesday after failing to persuade Trump against the tariffs, stood in the back of the room.

Exempting some nations marks a compromise from Trump’s initial plan for across-the-board tariffs, which was harshly criticized by members of his own Republican party who said it would cost U.S. jobs, raise consumer prices and hit American manufacturers. Trading partners including the European Union threatened retaliation, triggering fears of a trade war. International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde said no one wins in a trade battle and warned the proposed tariffs could have a serious negative economic impact.

Message Received

The message appeared to get through. Trump agreed to exclude Canada and Mexico from the duties because of their status as key regional allies and partners with the U.S. in renegotiating a new North American Free Trade Agreement, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Any U.S. trade partner has the option of asking to be excluded from the tariffs, the official said, and allies could be excluded if they can demonstrate how the tariffs would damage their national security.

U.S. aluminum and steel stocks, which had declined earlier Thursday, ended regular trading lower after Trump announced his administration’s import tariffs plan.

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