Tuesday , February 13, 2018 - 10:30 AM
(c) 2018, Bloomberg.
President Donald Trump told lawmakers that tariffs are an option to prevent what he called “dumping” of steel and aluminum imports “by many countries” including China.
“Part of the options would be tariffs,” Trump said at the beginning of a meeting with members of Congress from both parties. “I want to keep prices down but I want to make sure that we have a steel industry.”
Trump’s meeting with the 19 lawmakers -- four Democrats and 15 Republicans -- led off with discussion of his administration’s investigation of steel and aluminum imports. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross submitted his department’s final reports on the metals to Trump in January, and the president has until mid-April to decide on any potential action, which could include tariffs.
Trump instructed the Commerce Department last year to probe whether imports of steel and aluminum represent a threat to U.S. national security, under the seldom-used Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. The investigations are seen to primarily target China, which the U.S. blames for creating excess capacity and dragging down global prices. A separate U.S. probe into China’s intellectual property practices is also clouding trade relations.
Some Republican lawmakers challenged the idea of enacting tariffs based on a 232 finding.
“Invoking national security when I think it’s really hard to make that case invites retaliation,” Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, told Trump.
Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, added: “You would end up with net job losses,” noting U.S. industrial dependence on steel. He said only 3 percent of imported steel is used for national-security purposes, potentially undermining Trump’s argument.
Trump responded that the number would go up as the U.S. increases defense spending in coming years.
A White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters, said Tuesday that the meeting “is part of the president’s commitment to ensure fair and reciprocal trade policies that support the American worker and grow the American economy.”
Trump has frequently accused China of unfair trading practices, and he recently told Chinese President Xi Jinping that the U.S. trade deficit with China is “unsustainable.” The prospect of Trump turning tough trade rhetoric into action increased last month after he slapped tariffs on solar panels and washing machines, in his first major punitive trade action since taking office.
Trump said on Monday that he would soon announce a “reciprocal tax” -- a tax on imports from other countries at the same rates those countries impose on U.S. products.
“So we’re going to be doing very much a reciprocal tax,” Trump said. “And you’ll be hearing about that during the week and during the coming months.”
But an administration official said later on Monday that there isn’t a proposal for a reciprocal tax in the works.
Trump nonetheless doubled down on his call for a reciprocal tax in the meeting Tuesday.
“I think we should have a reciprocal tax. That’s called fair trade,” Trump said. He added that that “we’re like the stupid people” if we continue paying tariffs imposed by other countries while allowing their products to enter the U.S. with lower duties.
Still, he conceded the U.S. may not impose the levy in the end.
A House Republican proposal to tax imports, known as the border-adjusted tax, was removed from tax revamp plans after facing intense opposition from import-heavy industries such as retailers, and a cool reception from Senate lawmakers. Ultimately, no such import tax made it into the tax law that passed in December.
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