Trump considers steel tariffs amid threats of retaliation

President Donald Trump said he’s “looking forward” to meeting at the White House on his call to impose sweeping tariffs on imported steel and aluminum despite threats of retaliation from trading partners and calls by some Republicans for reconsideration.

“We have to protect & build our Steel and Aluminum Industries while at the same time showing great flexibility and cooperation toward those that are real friends and treat us fairly on both trade and the military,” Trump said on Twitter yesterday.

It was unclear if Trump expects to sign the order to establish the tariffs at the meeting, which wasn’t listed on the official White House schedule. While it was earlier reported that the order was to be signed yesterday, a person familiar with the planning said it would likely be pushed back to allow more time to prepare the legal documents.

The decision-making process regarding the tariffs has evolved and more changes could be made before the president formally approves them.

Trump has said he could exempt some nations from the new tariffs, amid threats of retaliation from U.S. trading partners and warnings from his own party that the move will hurt American businesses and consumers.

The administration will initially exclude Canada and Mexico from the tariffs, an exemption they would lose if they can’t agree to an updated North American Free Trade Agreement with the U.S., White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Wednesday. Other American allies could use a similar system to ask for an exemption, he said.

If Nafta talks fail, Canada and Mexico would face the same tariffs as other nations, Navarro added.

Other nations have threatened reprisals, and tensions are escalating. China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, vowed a “justified and necessary response” to any efforts to incite a trade war. It was the Chinese government’s most forcible response yet to the new tariffs.

Wang, who spoke on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, urged the U.S. to work with China on a mutually beneficial solution.

“A trade war has never been the right way to solve the problem, especially under globalization,” Wang said. Such a conflict “will only harm everyone and China will surely make a justified and necessary response.”

Trump has said he’s determined to impose a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum to protect national security. The plan has been widely criticized by Republicans, panned by corporate America, shaken global financial markets, and prompted the resignation of Trump’s top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, this week.

More than 100 House Republicans, led by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, urged Trump on Wednesday to reconsider broad tariffs, warning that they would cost American jobs, raise prices for consumers and hurt domestic manufacturing.

Adding to the wave of criticism, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Thomas Donohue said his organization was very concerned about the potential for retaliation and a trade war.

The European Union has warned it would respond with its own 25 percent tariff to hit USD3.5 billion of American goods. The bloc is targeting iconic U.S. brands produced in key Republican states on a range of consumer, agricultural and steel products, according to a list drawn up by the European Commission.

Trump announced the planned tariffs on March 1, after a Commerce Department investigation found that imports of the metals pose a risk to national security. The probes were authorized under the seldom-used Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act, that gives the president broad powers to impose trade restrictions on domestic security grounds.

Under the Section 232 rules, Trump has until April 11 to make a decision on steel and April 19 on aluminum. MDT/Bloomberg

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