‘Without Steel and Aluminum, Your Country’s Not the Same’

Hitting the 'America First' button, President Trump announces tariffs on these foreign imports — drawing both cheers and jeers

by Brendan Kirby | Updated 02 Mar 2018 at 6:49 AM

Making good on a campaign promise to pursue an “America First” trade policy, President Donald Trump on Thursday announced stiff tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum manufacturers.

Trump said at the White House that he would formally impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum next week.

“What’s been allowed to go on for decades is disgraceful,” the president said. “It’s disgraceful. And when it comes to a time when our country can’t make aluminum and steel — and somebody said it, and I will tell you — you almost don’t have a country. Because without steel and aluminum, your country’s not the same.”

Trump’s move drew support from industry leaders.

"We know when it's completely unfair," said U.S. Steel Corp. President and CEO Dave Burritt, who sat next to the president at the White House. "We are not protectionists. We want a level playing field. It's for our employees, to support our customers. And when we get this right, it will be great for the United States of America."

Todd Leebow, president and CEO of Majestic Steel USA — a Cleveland-based steel service center and master distributor — also praised Trump.

"I join steelworkers across America in being encouraged by President Trump's tariff announcement, which would level the playing field to prevent further deterioration of our domestic steel industry," he said in a statement.

The announcement did not go over well with America's trading partners and free trade advocates, however.

Chrystia Freeland, Canada's foreign affairs minister, called the tariffs "absolutely unacceptable." She noted that the United States has a $2 billion surplus in steel trade with Canada and that her country buys more American-made steel than any other nation.

"Any restrictions would harm workers, the industry and manufacturers on both sides of the border," she said in a statement. "The steel and aluminum industry is highly integrated and supports critical North American manufacturing supply chains. The Canadian government will continue to make this point directly with the American administration at all levels."

"Protectionism is weak, not strong. You'd expect a policy this bad from a leftist administration, not a supposedly Republican one."

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said the tariffs would hurt American consumers, according to NBC News.

"Let's be clear: The president is proposing a massive tax increase on American families," the lawmaker said. "Protectionism is weak, not strong. You'd expect a policy this bad from a leftist administration, not a supposedly Republican one."

The American International Automobile Dealers Association, whose members face potentially higher costs as prices rise for a key component in car manufacturing, made a similar point.

"These proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports couldn't come at a worse time," the group's president and CEO, Cody Lusk, said in a statement. "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. The burden of tariffs, as always, will be passed on to the American consumer."

Alan Tonelson, an economic policy analyst who favors trade restrictions, told LifeZette he is eager to see the fine print.

"I'm hoping he chooses the broadest set of tariffs, which is across-the-board steel tariffs," he said.

Tonelson, who writes the RealityChek blog, said tariffs aimed at Chinese steel "dumping" have proved ineffectual. This is because other countries have shipped Chinese steel to the United States after light processing or have shipped more of their own steel to America at lower prices — the huge amount of artificially cheap Chinese steel has caused a worldwide glut.

Tonelson dismissed complaints of automakers and other manufacturers.

If they are that dependent on cheap steel subsidized by foreign governments, "then that tells me they're not very competitive," he said.

Related: 'We're Going to Find More Jobs' if We Renegotiate Deal, Says U.S. Trade Rep

Imposing across-the-board tariffs is a move toward restoring a free market, Tonelson said. He also downplayed warnings of significantly higher prices for consumers. He questioned whether automakers have the pricing power to pass along increased costs; doing so risks a loss of market share.

"They may have to swallow lower profits until they find ways to become more productive," he said.

Trump's tariff announcement drew qualified praise from some on the Left. Robert E. Scott, director of trade and manufacturing policy research at the union-backed Economic Policy Institute, urged the Trump administration to coordinate with other countries to counter unfair trade in aluminum and steel.

"Trade remedies for steel and aluminum were long overdue. Trump promised quick action after announcing investigations of the national security threats imposed by steel and aluminum imports nearly a year ago," he said in a statement. "Delays worsened the import crisis for thousands of U.S. steel and aluminum workers, many of whom are facing layoffs and plant closing announcements."

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.

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