Portman warns against imposing tariffs using security threat

Sen. Rob Portman warned Tuesday it would be a “mistake” for the Trump administration to use the threat of national security to impose tariffs on imports of automobiles and auto parts.

In a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, Portman, R-Ohio, said “autos help run our economy – they don’t run a national security risk,” adding tariffs could add $2,000 to the average price of a car and cost the jobs of 624,000 Americans.

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The U.S. Department of Commerce is investigating whether imports of autos and auto parts are damaging U.S. national security. If the administration concludes they do harm national security, President Donald Trump can impose tariffs under a 1962 law known as Section 232.

Although under a revised North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico there is a commitment to avoid using national security tariffs, there is no guarantee they will not be imposed.

“It is a mistake for us to misuse 232, whether for autos or other products,” Portman said, warning that other countries will impose “higher tariffs” on U.S. exports, such as agriculture products.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration relied on Section 232 to impose tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from Canada and the European Union.

Portman, who served as U.S. trade representative under President George W. Bush, reminded the audience that Canada responded with $12 billion worth of tariffs on U.S. goods, “including agricultural products from Ohio, my home state.”

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Portman said when “you have this escalation of tariffs,” it is “not good for either country.”

Earlier this year, Portman introduced a bill which would revise Section 232 to make certain it would be only applied to national security purposes.

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