Trump orders big tariffs on steel

Other countries, EU threaten retaliatory action

Tribune Chronicle file photo / R. Michael Semple Steelworker Tony Lovash of Warren feeds rolled steel into a continuous strip annealing line at Thomas Steel in May 2014. President Donald Trump declared Thursday the United States will impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in an effort to protect U.S. industry from unfair competition and to bolster national security.

WASHINGTON — Ordering combative action on foreign trade, President Donald Trump declared Thursday the United States will impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, escalating tensions with China and other trading partners and raising the prospect of higher prices for American consumers and companies.

With “trade war” talk in the air, stocks closed sharply lower on Wall Street.

Trump said firm action was crucial to protect U.S. industry from unfair competition and to bolster national security. However, his announcement came only after an intense internal White House debate. It brought harsh criticism from some Republicans and roiled financial markets with concerns about economic ramifications.

Overseas, Trump’s words brought a stinging rebuke from the president of the European Commission. Though the president generally focuses on China in his trade complaining, it was the EU’s Jean-Claude Juncker who denounced his plan as “a blatant intervention to protect U.S. domestic industry.”

Juncker said the EU would take retaliatory action if Trump followed through.

Canada, the largest source of steel and aluminum imports in the U.S., said it would “take responsive measures” to defend its trade interests and workers if restrictions were imposed on Canadian steel and aluminum products.

Trump, who has long railed against what he deems unfair trade practices by China and others, summoned steel and aluminum executives to the White House and said next week he would levy penalties of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports. The tariffs, he said, would remain for “a long period of time,” but it was not immediately clear if some trading partners would be exempt.

“What’s been allowed to go on for decades is disgraceful. It’s disgraceful,” Trump told the executives in the Cabinet Room. “When it comes to a time when our country can’t make aluminum and steel … you almost don’t have much of a country.”

The president added: “You will have protection for the first time in a long while, and you’re going to regrow your industries. That’s all I’m asking. You have to regrow your industries.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, welcomed Trump’s comments. The expected action is the result of the Administration’s “232” investigation into the impact of steel imports on national security, and follows months of Brown’s repeated calls to Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to provide relief for the U.S. steel industry. Last month, Brown joined Trump and Ross at a meeting at the White House on steel and urged action.

Brown, who has built a strong relationship with the Administration’s top trade officials, applauded the news that Trump will next week impose a 25 percent tariff on steel.

“This welcome action is long overdue for shuttered steel plants across Ohio and steelworkers who live in fear that their jobs will be the next victims of Chinese cheating. President Trump must follow through on his commitment today to save American steel jobs and stop Chinese steel overcapacity from continuing to infect global markets,” said Brown. “If we fail to stand up for steel jobs today, China will come after other jobs up and down the supply chain tomorrow.”

Immediately after President Trump’s election, Brown reached out to his transition team to offer his help in retooling U.S. trade policy. Brown wrote to Trump in November 2016 offering specific steps to work together on trade and Trump responded with a handwritten note. Brown has called on administrations of both parties to help reduce China’s steel overcapacity, which leaves U.S. steelworkers and companies at a competitive disadvantage.

Increased foreign production has driven down prices and hurt U.S. producers, creating a situation the Commerce Department has called a national security threat.