Trump’s top trade advisors want to slap a new tax on steel imports, which could lead to a trade war

President Donald Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross

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President Donald Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross
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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

  • The Department of Commerce released its recommendations to President Donald Trump on Friday for new restrictions on steel imports.
  • The report presents Trump with three options, including a 24% tariff on all steel imports.
  • Economists and lawmakers are worried that new tariffs on steel could trigger retaliation from other countries and possibly hurt the US economy.
  • Trump has until April 11 to make a decision on the new rules.

The Department of Commerce announced Friday that it recommended that President Donald Trump slap new tariffs on steel imports as part of its investigation into the trade of the material.

The recommendations were triggered by a complaint under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which allows the president to impose restrictions on trade if certain import practices are determined a threat to national security.

The Commerce Department launched investigations into steel and aluminum imports in 2017 and presented their findings to Trump in January. The recommended actions in the report were:

  1. A global tariff, or tax on imports, on steel from all countries of 24%.
  2. A tariff of at least 53% on 12 countries’ imports, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam. This option also includes a quota on the amount of steel that can be imported from these nations.
  3. A quota on all steel imports that allows foreign countries to only export 63% of the amount of steel they sent to the US in 2017.

The report also recommends similar restrictions on aluminum imports with options of a 7.7% tariff on global imports; a 23.6% tariff on China, Hong Kong, Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam with a quota; or a quota for all countries equaling 86.7% of their 2017 exports to the US.

“I am glad that we were able to provide this analysis and these recommendations to the President,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement. “I look forward to his decision on any potential course of action.”

Trump has until April 11 to determine the course of action on the steel imports, but he told lawmakers in a meeting on Tuesday that “substantial tariffs” were a possibility.

The goal of these tariffs would be to increase domestic production of steel and grow the US steel workforce.

But economists have raised concerns that such tariffs could backfire, lead other countries to slap new restrictions on US exports, and in the worst case result in a trade war. Such a trade war could seriously damage the US economy and contribute to inflation or an economic downturn.

Already, there are reports that the European Union – one of the biggest exporters of steel to the US – could retaliate with a tariff on US agricultural goods.

A similar tariff on steel proposed by former President George W. Bush in 2002 was pulled before it went into effect because of blowback from some of the US’s closest trading partners.

Even GOP lawmakers in the meeting with Trump cautioned the president against tariffs on steel.

“I would urge us to go very, very cautiously here,” GOP Sen. Pat Toomey told Trump on Tuesday.

Democrats, on the other hand, applauded the annoucement by Commerce. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer even said Democrats would allow the approval of one of Trump’s Commerce Department nominees in response to the annoucement.

“The Commerce Department’s recommendations today we hope are the beginning of efforts by this administration to finally get tough on China and help level the playing field for American steel and aluminum producers and workers,” Schumer said in a statement. “Now the president must quickly follow through with his promise to stand up for these workers and American manufacturing by adopting the full extent of these recommendations.”

Recently, Trump increased his tough talk on trade saying that the administration was looking into a “reciprocal tax” on imports and attacking other countries for their own trade restrictions.