Trump delays formal unveiling of steel tariffs

March 01, 2018
A conveyer belt transfers fuel at AK Steel in Middletown, Ohio. Middletown Works’ carbon steel melting, casting, hot and cold rolling, and finishing operations cover more than 2,791 acres. NICK DAGGY / STAFF

Even though a formal announcement on the imposition of steel tariffs has been delayed, battle lines were being drawn Thursday. 

Trump is reported to have told domestic steel executives and a White House pool of reporters that tariffs on steel and aluminum imports will be unveiled “next week.”

Tariff supporters say such a measure will protect U.S. steel-producing jobs as well as national security.

In a tweet Thursday morning, the president himself appeared to be laying the groundwork for some kind of announcement.

“Our Steel and Aluminum industries (and many others) have been decimated by decades of unfair trade and bad policy with countries from around the world,” the president tweeted  early Thursday. “We must not let our country, companies and workers be taken advantage of any longer. We want free, fair and SMART TRADE!”

American steel and aluminum executives were invited to the White House for a midday meeting. 

Some blamed White House discord on the issue for the week-long delay.

More than a month ago the U.S. Commerce Department gave the president the results of an investigation into steel and aluminum imports, giving him 90 days to respond. 

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Trump has been weighing protective trade action under a rarely used ‘Section 232’ of the U.S. trade law, which allows for restrictions on imports to protect national security.

U.S. steel executives have been urging the president to take just such an action.

The head of the American Iron and Steel Institute, a lobbying group of steel companies, including Middletown’s AK Steel Corp., thanked Trump for his stance.

“We thank the president for meeting with our industry, and following through on his commitment to addressing the steel crisis. Foreign steel imports surged again in 2017 — up 15 percent from the previous year and capturing 27 percent of the U.S. market. About one fourth of domestic steel capacity today is not being utilized,” Thomas Gibson, AISI president and chief executive, said.

“We are pleased that the president is addressing this issue and look forward to the formal announcement next week,” Gibson added.

Skeptics, however, have countered that steel tariffs will raise steel prices, hurting steel-consuming companies like Caterpillar and GE, who are also big Ohio employers. Those companies have more workers than steel producers, these observers have noted.

“These proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports couldn’t come at a worse time,” said Cody Lusk, president and CEO of the American International Automobile Dealers Association. “Auto sales have flattened in recent months, and manufacturers are not prepared to absorb a sharp increase in the cost to build cars and trucks in America.”

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