2018-03-01 13:56:04
Trump to Impose Stiff Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum

WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Thursday that he will impose stiff and sweeping tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum as he moved to fulfill a key campaign promise to get tough on foreign competitors.

Mr. Trump said he would formally sign the trade measures next week and promised they would be in effect “for a long period of time.” The trade measures would impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum. It is unclear whether those would apply to all imports or be targeted toward specific countries, like China, which have been flooding the United States with cheap metals.

The announcement capped a frenetic and chaotic morning inside the White House as Mr. Trump summoned more than a dozen executives from the steel and aluminum industry to the White House, raising expectations that he would announce his long-promised tariffs. However, the legal review of the trade measure was not yet complete and, as of Thursday morning, White House advisers were still discussing various scenarios for tariff levels and which countries could be included, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

Advisers have been bitterly divided over how to proceed on the tariffs, including whether to impose them broadly on all steel and aluminum imports or whether to tailor them more narrowly to target specific countries like China. Imposing tough sanctions would fulfill one of the president’s key campaign promises but could tip off trade wars around the globe as other countries seek to retaliate against the United States.

Gary D. Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, had been lobbying for months alongside others, including Defense Secretary James Mattis and Rob Porter, the staff secretary who recently resigned under pressure from the White House, to kill, postpone, or at least narrow the scope of the measures, people familiar with the discussions said.

But in recent weeks, a group of White House advisers who advocate a tougher posture on trade has been in ascendance, including Robert Lighthizer, the country’s top trade negotiator, and Peter Navarro, a trade skeptic who had been sidelined but is now in line for a promotion.

The departure of Mr. Porter, who organized weekly trade meetings and coordinated the trade advisers, and the breakdown of the typical trade advisory process has helped create a chaotic situation in which those opposing factions are no longer kept in check. The situation had descended into utter chaos and an all-out war between various trade factions, people close to the White House said.

“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,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter Thursday morning. “We must not let our country, companies and workers be taken advantage of any longer. We want free, fair and SMART TRADE!”

The White House has come to the brink of announcing these measures several times in the past eight months, including last June. In recent days, the president appears to have grown impatient for action. In the past few days, supporters of the tariffs have also begun airing televised ads during programs that Mr. Trump has been known to watch.

But foreign governments, multinational companies and the Pentagon have continued to lobby against the measure, arguing that the proposed tariffs could disrupt economic and security ties.

Mr. Trump’s announcement came on the same day that senior administration officials are scheduled to meet with China’s top economic adviser, Liu He. The White House has been eager to clamp down on Chinese imports and has several trade measures underway.

The investigation, which was launched under an obscure measure of the trade law called Section 232, has focused on whether imports were compromising American national security by degrading the industrial base. In a report released to the public in February, the Commerce Department concluded that imports were a national security threat.

The Trump administration has already issued tariffs — it imposed restrictions on foreign washing machines and solar panels in January — but trade analysts said the announcement on steel and aluminum could be the broadest and most significant measure yet from an administration that has vowed to take a substantially different tack on trade.