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Trump aide: Tariffs on foreign steel to start soon

President Donald Trump meets with steel industry leaders

President Donald Trump meets with steel industry leaders at the White House on March 1, 2018. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Mandel Ngan

President Donald Trump plans to press ahead this week or early next week with his proposal to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, even as foreign trading partners vow to respond with their own tariffs on American products, top administration officials said Sunday.

Peter Navarro, director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, defended the president’s proposal to impose tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on imported aluminum as “an action basically to protect our national security and economic security.”

“The president was quite clear: We can’t have a country that can defend itself and prosper without an aluminum and steel industry,” Navarro said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said Trump showed no signs of reversing course on the proposal despite pushback from top-ranking Republicans who argue the plan runs counter to the free market values embraced by the party.

“The president has announced that this will happen this week. I have no reason to think otherwise,” Ross said.

In fact, Trump appeared to double down on his plan in a Sunday tweet.

“We are on the losing side of almost all trade deals,” he tweeted on Sunday night following the talk show appearances. “Our friends and enemies have taken advantage of the U.S. for many years. Our Steel and Aluminum industries are dead. Sorry, it’s time for a change! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

On Thursday, Trump had announced the proposed tariffs at the White House, arguing they were needed to “regrow” the country’s industry amid an increase in imported steel and aluminum products that has forced the closure of U.S. metal manufacturers.

“Without steel and aluminum our country is not the same,” Trump said in a Thursday meeting with steel and aluminum industry leaders.

Trump’s announcement had an immediate negative effect on the global markets, with the Dow Jones industrial average dropping by about 420 points.

Foreign powers quickly threatened to impose their own set of sanctions in response to Trump’s actions or said they would appeal to the United States to be exempted.

The European Union on Friday said it would impose a 25 percent tariff on about $3.5 billion worth of American products.

“We will put tariffs on Harley-Davidson, on bourbon and on blue jeans — Levi’s,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told German reporters on Friday.

In China, Wen Xianjun, vice chairman of the China Nonferrous Metals Industry Association, in a statement responding to Trump’s tariffs, said: “Other countries, including China, will take relevant retaliatory measures.”

Navarro told “Fox News Sunday” he did not believe Trump would exempt countries, including longtime allies such as Japan and Canada, from being tariffed.

“As soon as he starts exempting countries, he has to raise the tariff on everybody else,” Navarro said. “As soon as he exempts one country, his phone starts ringing from the heads of state of other countries.”

Navarro on CNN said “there will be an exemption procedure for particular cases where we need to have exemptions so that business can move forward, but at this point in time there are no country exclusions.”

When CNN host Jake Tapper pointed out that China only accounts for 2 percent of U.S. steel imports, and the tariffs could hurt American allies such as Canada, Brazil and South Korea, Navarro responded: “The bigger picture here is that China has tremendous overcapacity in both aluminum and steel. And so what they do is they flood the world market with this product and that ripples down to our shores and into other countries. And so China is the root problem in both aluminum and steel for all countries in the world.”

Ross, speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” pushed back against claims that the new tariffs would hurt the U.S. economy.

“The total amount of tariffs we’re putting on is about $9 billion in a year,” Ross said. “That’s a fraction of . . . the economy, so the notion that it would destroy a lot of jobs, raise prices, disrupt things, is wrong.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” urged Trump to “reconsider” the tariffs, saying “It’s only going to hurt American consumers and our allies.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), appearing on “State of the Union,” said he supports the tariffs and didn’t believe prices for products with steel in them would rise as a result.

“That’s Wall Street talking . . . I don’t buy it,” Manchin said. “In West Virginia, we’ve lost thousands and thousands of jobs.”

Josh Bolten, president and chief executive of the Business Roundtable, an association of American business chief executives, called the tariff proposal “a huge mistake.”

Bolten, who served as President George W. Bush’s chief of staff, said he worried that U.S. trade partners would retaliate. He said Navarro is “betting the jobs of tens of thousands of Americans who depend on these export markets that there won’t be retaliation, and there’s a lot of risk that he’s wrong.”

He said that U.S. chief executives in his organization fear a “trade war.”

Trump mentioned that phrase in a tweet Friday: “When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore — we win big. It’s easy!”

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