Trump orders steel imports probe
Calls it a matter of national security
WASHINGTON — After signing a memorandum Thursday ordering an investigation into foreign steel coming into U.S. markets, President Donald Trump joked about whom he should give the pen to: “To labor or to steel?” he asked to laughter in the Oval Office. “How about we give it to the union for a change, should we do that?” He did so.
Mr. Trump said that he had pledged in his campaign that he would take action on behalf of American workers, which was “one of the primary reasons I’m sitting here today as president.”
“Since the day I took office, I have followed through on that promise big league, beginning with
our withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership.” He said he was proud of that withdrawal, which would have been “another NAFTA disaster.”
Mr. Trump described his memorandum as one that “would prioritize the investigation that began yesterday, and really, long before that” of foreign steel arriving in U.S. markets, and its effect on national security.
“Maintaining the production of American steel is extremely important to our national security and our defense industrial base,” he said. “Steel is critical to both our economy and our military. This is not an area where we can afford to become dependent on foreign countries.”
Based on the findings of the report, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will make formal recommendations to the White House “in the very, very near future,” he said. His action was “the next vital step toward making America strong and prosperous once again.”
The Commerce Department investigation could be completed in as little as 50 days, he said.
In a briefing Thursday morning, Mr. Ross said the review would consider how much steel the U.S. needs to defend itself, and whether current domestic capacity meets those requirements. Steel imports now make up more than 26 percent of the entire U.S. marketplace, and the report will examine to what extent those imports impinge on U.S. economic and national defense security, Mr. Ross said.
The investigation could result in a recommendation that United States impose broad tariffs on the steel industry, Mr. Ross said. “The important question is protecting our defense needs. And we will do whatever is necessary to do that, but we’ve come to no conclusion yet, because the study is just recently begun.”
The investigation, which was self-initiated by the Commerce Department, rather than the steel industry itself, revives a section of a little-used trade law, the 1962 Trade Expansion Act. Section 232 of the law allows the government to impose a wide variety of barriers on steel imports for national security reasons. It does not focus on a particular country, but analysts say the order is likely to be wielded against China, which has about half of the world’s steel capacity and has flooded the global market with cheap steel in recent years.
In response to a shouted question about how this will affect dealings with China on North Korea, Mr. Trump answered: “This has nothing to do with China. This has to do with worldwide, what’s happening. The dumping problem is a worldwide problem.”
U.S. Steel welcomed the investigation, saying “a strong steel industry is at the foundation of America's economic and national security.”
“Tens of thousands of workers in the American steel industry, the industry's supply chain and the communities in which our industry operates have lost their jobs due to unfair and illegal practices by foreign producers,” the Pittsburghbased steelmaker said in a statement.
Mr. Trump's action lit a fire under steel stocks Thursday. U.S. Steel jumped more than 7 percent to close at $30.51, up $2.09.
Thomas J. Gibson, president and CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute, applauded the action.
“Times of crisis call for extraordinary measures. Massive global steel overcapacity has resulted in record levels of dumped and subsidized foreign steel coming into the U.S. and the loss of nearly 14,000 steel jobs,” he said in a statement. “The Administration launching this investigation is an impactful way to help address the serious threat posed by these unfair foreign trade practices, and we applaud this bold action.The domestic steel industry is the backbone of our manufacturing sector, and our continued ability to meet our national security needs is dependent on the industry remaining competitive in the global marketplace. We stand ready to work with the Administration on this initiative.”
Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut said that although it was a “step forward,” she would hold the administration accountable “on its promises to fight for working Americans. Already, Mr. Trump has backed off on his promise to only use American steel for the Keystone XL pipeline, and he has walked back his commitment to hold China accountable for its decades of strategic currency misalignment.”
She continued in her statement: “Our workers have been crushed by the Chinese steel overcapacity dumped into American markets and millions of good paying jobs have been lost. China is not a market economy, and we cannot continue to leave our workers exposed to non-market competition by the Chinese Communist Party.”