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New tariffs causing companies to open plants in the U.S., commerce official says

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross speaks about trade

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross speaks about trade issues in Washington Friday at a meeting of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. Credit: Newsday/James T. Madore

WASHINGTON - Increased tariffs on imported solar panels, washing machines, steel and aluminium are causing manufacturers to open factories in the United States, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Friday.

Speaking to journalists here, President Donald Trump’s point man on business development said the tariffs were responsible for Friday’ s opening of a steel mill in Oklahoma that will employ several hundred people, and for plans for a $400 million plant in Ohio to produce solar panels.

“It takes a while for trade actions to produce beneficial results...The early report card is pretty encouraging,” said Ross, a private equity investor and business-turnaround expert.

He defended Trump’s decision in Janaury to impose a 30 percent tariff on solar panels, imported principally from China, and tariffs of between 20 percent and 50 percent on washing machines from South Korea. Last month the president hiked import taxes on steel and aluminum to 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

The tariffs have sparked worries about the first U.S.-led trade war in nearly 90 years. U.S. allies such as Canada and the European Union are facing a Tuesday deadline to offer trade concessions or lose their exemption from the steel and aluminum tariffs.

Ross said he expects to be “busy over the next few days” determining which exemptions will remain in place.

“It isn’t that we want to be a big tariff machine,” he told about 200 journalists at the Society for Advancing Business Ethics and Writing conference. “What we want is fair and reciprocal trade with our trading partners.”

Ross’ comments followed criticism of the increased U.S. tariffs by Canada’s ambassador to the United States, David MacNaughton, at the conference Thursday night.

The ambassador questioned Trump’s justification for higher steel and aluminum tariffs on grounds that a flagging U.S. metals industry undermines U.S. military preparedness. Canada is a top supplier of both metals.

“Canada is a national security threat to the United States of America? I mean give me a break,” said MacNaughton, who has been in his post since 2016. “We should have a permanent exemption…We are defined as part of the defense industrial base of the United States.”

The higher tariffs have hiked prices on both imported and domestically made metals. The increases are affecting manufacturers in Nassau and Suffolk counties, including defense contractors.

MacNaughton said the increases are aimed at China but will likely harm U.S. allies as well.

He said U.S. trade officials have told him that Canada isn’t a target. “And I keep saying, ‘Why are you punching me in the nose then, if you are trying to get at them?’ ”

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