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Trump won’t back off from tariffs, advisers say

By Laura King • Mar 4, 2018 at 8:27 PM

WASHINGTON — Administration officials signaled Sunday that President Donald Trump is determined to impose punishing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, brushing aside an outcry from foreign allies, U.S. manufacturers, Republican lawmakers and some advisers that he may ignite a damaging trade war.

Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, the apparent winners of an internal administration battle over the issue, said that they expect the president to follow up swiftly on his announcement Thursday that he would invoke a little-used legal provision to singlehandedly impose duties of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum.

“We expect probably by the end of the week it will be signed,” Navarro said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Some lawmakers welcomed Trump’s plan.

“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,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said. “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. If we fail to stand up for steel jobs today, China will come after other jobs up and down the supply chain tomorrow.”

Navarro and Ross each suggested that Trump was unlikely to exempt allied countries from the tariffs, despite national-security concerns raised by some of his advisers. The president has instead invoked national security as a reason to press ahead with the tariffs.

“As soon as he starts exempting countries (from the tariffs), he has to raise the tariff on everybody else,” Navarro said on “Fox News Sunday.” Making trade allowances for good friends, he contended, was impractical: “As soon as he exempts one country, his phone starts ringing from the heads of state of other countries.”

Ross, on ABC’s “This Week,” said he believed Trump was “talking about a fairly broad brush” in applying the tariffs. “I have not heard him describe particular exemptions yet,” he said.

The president, who often doubles down in the face of criticism, has seemingly been unmoved by allies’ warnings that they would be forced to retaliate. More admonitions came in Sunday, as the British Embassy reported that Prime Minister Theresa May spoke with Trump by phone and raised “deep concern” over the tariffs.

May told Trump that “multilateral action was the only way to resolve the problem of global overcapacity in all parties’ interests,” according to the British statement. The White House did not immediately offer its own account of the conversation between the two leaders, whose relations have suffered periodic strains despite the long-standing friendship between the United States and Britain.

In a series of Twitter posts, Trump has seemingly relished the idea of trade clashes, even with close allies such as Canada, South Korea and members of the European Union. On Saturday, he suggested that automobiles might be the next targeted trade sector.

“If the E.U. wants to increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on U.S. companies doing business there, we will simply apply a Tax on their Cars which freely pour into the U.S.,” he wrote on Twitter.

On Friday, a day after divulging the tariff plan, the president said trade wars are “good and easy to win,” a position that economists across the political spectrum dispute.

Navarro, on “Face the Nation,” dismissed the notion that the plan’s abrupt rollout had been a slapdash, off-the-cuff affair. “This is a serious decision,” he said. “The president wanted to make a measured decision.”

Yet just before the president’s remarks on Thursday, which he made in a meeting with steel industry chiefs, Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, and other aides opposed to the tariffs were assuring reporters and administration allies in business and Congress that Trump would not act.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., offered a blunt public message to Trump Sunday: “You’re making a huge mistake.”

On CBS, Graham said China –– the tariffs’ ostensible target, to punish Beijing for metals dumping — would feel little economic impact because it accounts for only a very small share of steel and aluminum imported into the U.S. American allies including Canada, the European Union, Japan and South Korea are more significant exporters.

At the same time, Graham said, the Chinese leadership might take offense at the move, even as Trump is seeking Chinese help in reining in North Korea.

Trump has insisted that tariffs will not only help boost the aluminum and steel industry, but also generate more manufacturing jobs. That claim has been met with skepticism in the business community and by many analysts who predict a net job loss and damage to the overall U.S. and world economy as a result of the tariffs and other measures.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said on ABC that a trade fight with Europe would be a “gift to Russia” because it would weaken important alliances.

“There are times when targeted sanctions are necessary, but you have to recognize that none takes place in a vacuum,” Murphy said.

Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who generally sides with Democrats, made a similar point on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“You can’t make a change of this significance and assume that nothing else is going to happen as a result,” King said.

“We don’t know the details yet,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told Fox News on Thursday. “I understand that will come out next week, and the president preempted it with his comments today. I have argued that certain parts of our industry here do need immediate protection.

“By the way, it’s a temporary protection; it’s for national security reasons,” Portman added. “Electrical steel is an example. We have one manufacture left for this important steel that goes into transformers that are needed for our electrical grid. There’s been a 100 percent increase in imports in the last year. They tell me they’re going to go out of business unless they get some relief. So that’s an example where, yeah, there’s a serious national security concern there. We need it. Also in some of our oil country products – the pipe and tube for the oil and gas industry. So it depends on the product. I look forward to seeing it. I do think we need some relief in the short term.”

Ohio’s two senators spearheaded the Leveling the Playing Field Act, signed into law in June 2015, which restored strength to antidumping and countervailing duty statutes that allow businesses and workers in the United States to petition the Commerce Department and the International Trade Commission (ITC) when foreign producers, including China, sell goods in the U.S. below market price or receive illegal subsidies.

The law led to key wins for Ohio steel companies in major trade cases last year on cold-rolled, hot-rolled, and corrosion-resistant steel, including U.S. Steel, Nucor, ArcelorMittal and AK Steel, which together employ more than 8,200 Ohio workers.

Brown said he applauded the administration’s decision to launch the investigation last year, and has since called on the administration to make a determination in the case for several months, including in joint letters from Brown and Portman.

“We also need to keep aggressively administering our trade laws because the more long-term solution here is to ensure that countries don’t dump or don’t subsidize, which is illegal under national rules by bringing these trade cases and winning them. We passed laws in the last year and a half making that easier,” Portman said.

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Trump’s trade adviser says some tariff exemptions are possible

Some exemptions could be made to the tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum announced by President Donald Trump but exclusions for entire countries aren’t expected, the top White House trade adviser said.

“There’s a difference between exemptions and country exclusions,” Peter Navarro, director of the National Trade Council at the White House, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “There’ll be an exemption procedure for particular cases where you need to have exemptions so that business can move forward, but at this point in time, there’ll be no country exclusions.”

Navarro didn’t specify under what circumstances exemptions may be considered. Trump is expected to sign an order for the tariffs within the next two weeks after all legalities are finalized, Navarro said.

He defended Trump’s decision to set levies of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum, a move that rocked financial markets and which critics say threatens U.S. jobs and ignites the possibility of a global trade war.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross continued to downplay the possible impact of the move on U.S. consumer prices and jobs.

“We’re talking about a fraction of a penny,” on the impact on American consumers, Ross said on NBC’s “Meet the Press. “Retaliation isn’t going to change the price on a can of beer.”

The tariffs are part of Trump’s plan to counter what he says are decades of unfair trade practices and ill-advised trade agreements that have robbed the U.S. of revenue and jobs. During his first year as president, Trump withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership and threatened to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada unless changes are made.

“Our jobs and wealth are being given to other countries that have taken advantage of us for years,” Trump said Saturday on Twitter. “They laugh at what fools our leaders have been. No more!”

Some free-trade proponents hope Trump will reverse himself, much as the president has done on issues such as gun control and keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But the media stops by Ross and Navarro suggest that the president plans to press ahead despite opposition from close allies, fellow Republicans, and even some members of his administration, including Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council.

Responding to a question on whether Cohn might quit in response to the tariff decision, Navarro said it’s “up to Gary whether he goes or stays.”

Foreign officials threatened retaliation for the new tariffs, including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who said the bloc would target imports of U.S. merchandise like Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Levi Strauss jeans.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Miles Weiss and Mark Niquette of the Bloomberg News (TNS) and the Norwalk Reflector staff contributed to this story.


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