Trump orders stiff trade tariffs, unswayed by grim warnings

Unswayed by Republican warnings of a trade war, President Donald Trump ordered steep new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to the U.S. on Thursday, vowing to fight back against an "assault on our country" by foreign competitors. The president said he would exempt Canada and Mexico as "a special case" while negotiating for changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The new tariffs will take effect in 15 days, with America's neighbors indefinitely spared "to see if we can make the deal," Trump said. He suggested in an earlier meeting with his Cabinet that Australia and "other countries" might be spared, a shift that could soften the international blow amid threats of retaliation by trading partners.

Those "other countries" can try to negotiate their way out of the tariffs, he indicated, by ensuring their trade actions do not harm America's security.

Surrounded by steel and aluminum workers holding hard hats, Trump cast his action as necessary to protect industries "ravaged by aggressive foreign trade practices. It's really an assault on our country. It's been an assault."

His move, an assertive step for his "America First" agenda, has rattled allies across the globe and raised questions at home about whether protectionism will impede U.S. economic growth. The president made his announcement the same day that officials from 11 other Pacific Rim countries signed a sweeping trade agreement that came together after he pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership last year.

Though he focused on workers and their companies in his announcement, Trump's legal proclamation made a major point that weakened steel and aluminum industries represent a major threat to America's military strength and national security.

The former real estate developer said U.S. politicians had for years lamented the decline in the steel and aluminum industries but no one before him was willing to take action.

Despite a week of furious lobbying against his plan by Republican lawmakers and some of his own advisers, Trump said he would go ahead with penalty tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum. But he also said the penalties could "go up or down depending on the country, and I'll have a right to drop out countries or add countries. I just want fairness."

Century Aluminum Chief Executive Michael Bless said the tariffs would allow his company, which produces high-purity aluminum used in military aircraft, to recall about 300 workers and restart idled production lines at its smelter in eastern Kentucky by early 2019. And Trump took note of U.S. Steel's announcement that it planned to ramp up activity at its plant in Granite City, Illinois, and recall about 500 employees because of the new tariffs.

But there was political criticism aplenty, especially from Trump's own Republican Party.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, appearing with Home Depot employees in Atlanta, warned of "unintended consequences." And Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin called the tariffs "a very risky action" that could put agricultural and manufacturing jobs at risk.

"I'm not sure there are any winners in trade wars," said Johnson, who once ran a plastics manufacturing business in his home state.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said Trump's action was "like dropping a bomb on a flea" and could carry "huge unintended consequences for American manufacturers who depend on imported materials."

Business leaders, too, sounded their alarm about the potential economic fallout, warning that American consumers would be hurt by higher prices. They noted that steel-consuming companies said tariffs imposed in 2002 by President George W. Bush ended up wiping out 200,000 U.S. jobs.

"Tariffs are taxes, and the American taxpayer will pay the cost of a trade war," said Cody Lusk, president and CEO of the American International Automobile Dealers Association. "Even with limited exemptions, tariffs will raise the sale prices of new vehicles."

Stocks ended the day higher after the announcement, with investors relieved by the carved out exceptions for key allies.

At the White House, an upbeat Trump chatted with the steelworkers, invited them to the Oval Office and autographed a hard hat. He invited some of the workers to speak from the presidential podium, and several said that excessive "dumping" of foreign steel and aluminum had negatively affected their jobs and families.

Nations around the globe that were not excluded from the tariffs reacted with dismay.

The European Union warned before the announcement that it was ready to retaliate with counter-measures against iconic U.S. products such as Harley Davidson motorcycles, Levi's jeans and bourbon.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom tweeted after Trump's announcement that "the EU should be excluded from these measures." Malmstrom said she would be meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Brussels on Saturday.

The British government said tariffs "are not the right way to address the global problem of overcapacity" and said it would work with EU partners "to consider the scope for exemptions outlined today." Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono called the decision "extremely regrettable," predicting it could have a major impact on the economy and the relationship between the U.S. and Japan, as well as the global economy.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, meanwhile, called the announcement a "step forward" and said Canadian officials had exerted tremendous efforts to get the exemption. "That Canada could be seen as a threat to U.S. security is inconceivable," she said.

The exemptions for Canada and Mexico could be ended if talks to renegotiate NAFTA stall, the White House said. The talks are expected to resume early next month.

The run-up to Thursday's announcement included intense debate within the White House, pitting hard-liners against free trade advocates such as outgoing economic adviser Gary Cohn. Recent weeks have seen other departures and negative news stories that have left Trump increasingly isolated, according to senior officials speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions.


Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Darlene Superville, Jill Colvin, Zeke Miller, Martin Crutsinger and Alan Fram in Washington, Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.


Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter at

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Politics

Portman: Firing Mueller would be ‘big mistake’
Portman: Firing Mueller would be ‘big mistake’

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said today that it “would be a big mistake” for President Donald Trump to fire Independent Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian officials trying to influence the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign had any ties to those officials. “I’ve said all along it would be a mistake to...
States take lead in passing gun laws
States take lead in passing gun laws

Despite the pleas from students across the country for Washington to do something about gun violence, the states seem to be ones listening. In the aftermath of a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that took the lives of 17 students, at least two states have moved to pass more stringent gun regulations. A handful of Republican governors — including...
Russia investigation: Special counsel Mueller subpoenas Trump Organization
Russia investigation: Special counsel Mueller subpoenas Trump Organization

  Special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents as part of his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to President Donald Trump and his associates, according to multiple reports. The subpoena is the first directly connected to one of Trump’s businesses...
Pa. election outcome has some thinking Ohio districts are in play
Pa. election outcome has some thinking Ohio districts are in play

Democrat Conor Lamb’s stunning victory Tuesday in a suburban Pittsburgh congressional district easily won in 2016 by President Donald Trump has convinced Democrats and some independent analysts the party has a chance to compete for at least two GOP seats in Ohio. Although Lamb apparently prevailed over Republican Rick Saccone by less than a thousand...
READ IT NOW: Ex-Springfield firefighter shared post with racial slur
READ IT NOW: Ex-Springfield firefighter shared post with racial slur

A Facebook post shared by a Springfield firefighter that the city says led to his firing contained a racial slur, and mocked school dropouts and McDonald’s employees. Bradley Baugh was fired on March 9 after only a few weeks with the Springfield Fire/Rescue Division, according to city records obtained by the Springfield News-Sun through a public...
More Stories