‘It’s a still a big mistake, but it’s a smaller mistake than it was two weeks ago,’ says one business leader.
The Trump administration said Thursday it would exempt the European Union and four other allies — Australia, Argentina, Brazil and South Korea — from steel and aluminum tariffs that take effect Friday.
President Donald Trump “has decided to pause the imposition of the tariffs with respect to those countries,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told lawmakers at a Senate Finance Committee hearing.
Trump’s announcement of the sweeping tariffs earlier this month unnerved and infuriated long-standing allies, many of whom had threatened harsh retaliatory actions against U.S. products. The president initially announced that he would exempt Canada and Mexico from the 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent duty on aluminum. But while he previously hinted that other close allies might get a pass, he offered no criteria for how those decisions would be made.
Lighthizer, however, told senators on Thursday that Trump agreed, “based on a certain set of criteria, that some countries should get out,” and that those are the countries the U.S. has been negotiating with.
The U.S. imports the majority of its steel from Canada, Brazil, South Korea and Mexico, but all told it gets steel and aluminum from roughly 50 countries.
“By our calculation that means that two-thirds of steel and 54 percent of aluminum imports will not be affected by the tariffs,” said Joshua Bolten, president and CEO of the Business Roundtable.
“Even what’s left remains a mistake, but it’s encouraging that it appears the administration has listened to businesses and consumer communities and representatives on the Hill who have expressed concerns. It’s a still a big mistake, but it’s a smaller mistake than it was two weeks ago.“
Lighthizer and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross have led the administration’s talks with countries seeking exemptions from the tariffs.
“Many countries are calling to negotiate better trade deals so they don’t have to pay the tariffs,” Trump said Thursday during a signing ceremony for unrelated trade restrictions against China over its intellectual property practices.
Trump will make the final call on which countries will be excluded from the steel and aluminum tariffs. The president emphasized Thursday that the U.S. will continue to seek a renegotiated NAFTA that better serves American interests along with updates to its free trade agreement with South Korea, which he called “one-sided.”
Trump also took a shot at the European Union, accusing it of using its trade policies to put the squeeze on the U.S. He said U.S. officials are “just starting a negotiation with the European Union, because they shut out our country to a large extent.” He did not offer an update on how those talks have progressed.
“I believe in many cases, maybe in all cases, we will end up negotiating a deal,” Trump said, without offering more details.
Ross and European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström met earlier this week to discuss the steel and aluminum tariffs and agreed to launch talks on matters of U.S.-EU cooperation in trade policy.
Ross told the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday morning that the U.S. has had very good discussions with the EU. He said the administration hopes that the steel and aluminum tariffs will spur “collective action on the part of the world community to deal with the ultimate problem, which is the overcapacity, particularly in China, but not exclusively in China.”
Ross pointed out that the European Union, though a trade ally of the U.S., also contributes to the problem of global overcapacity.
“We think the EU, in a whole variety of different ways, is part of the problem,” Ross said. “Steel that comes in the form of an automobile from Germany is every bit as much of a problem as steel that comes in as steel.”