President Trump once again vowed action to protect the U.S. steel industry from foreign competition, but nearly two weeks after the White House's self-imposed deadline for a decision, the administration is still considering its options.
Speaking aboard Air Force One on Wednesday, Trump told reporters that China and other countries were “dumping steel” in the United States and promised to stop them.
“We're like a dumping ground, okay? They're dumping steel and destroying our steel industry, they've been doing it for decades, and I'm stopping it. It'll stop,” he said.
Asked if he was considering tariffs on imported steel, the president replied, “There are two ways — quotas and tariffs. Maybe I'll do both.”
Since April, business leaders, labor groups and foreign leaders have been waiting for the Trump administration to conclude two separate investigations into imported steel and aluminum. The administration launched the inquiries into whether imports of the foreign metals were a threat to national security, as foreign competition crowded out many domestic firms and left the United States with less capacity to produce both products.
If the Trump administration finds that steel imports are threatening security, it could impose tariffs, quotas or other restrictions. The move is favored by the domestic steel industry, which argues it has been a victim of unfair trade practices by foreign competitors. But it is opposed by a host of other domestic industries worried about higher costs, as well as by foreign trading partners — some of whom have suggested they would respond by limiting U.S. exports into their markets.
Wilbur Ross, the secretary of the Commerce Department, which is carrying out the investigation, had said that the report’s findings would be available by the end of June. But a decision has been delayed due to domestic opposition and concerns from some members of the administration who fear igniting a trade war.
Ross held a closed-door meeting with members of the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday, telling them he would present Trump as soon as next week with options for potential actions, lawmakers in attendance said. Ross suggested different countries could be treated differently under any restrictions, and he singled out Canada, which he said had not dumped an oversupply of steel, unlike other countries, a person in the meeting said.
Ross emerged from the meeting after 80 minutes and said he and lawmakers had had an expansive discussion on the investigation, “the possible tools” the administration could use, and “the risks that are involved.”
“We had a very good interchange of views,” he told reporters.
Asked when the report could come out, he said, “It will come out when it's ready to come out.”
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan) described Ross' argument that countries, especially China, had been dumping steel as persuasive, but described retaliation as “a real concern.” He said he had given Ross a copy of a letter from agriculture groups at the meeting that warned of the potential retaliatory blowback that could occur if the White House cracks down too harshly on steel.
Roberts said the White House has to address steel dumping, “but you hopefully can do it in a way that’s not going to endanger retaliation from the very countries that we’re now hoping to export more ... on the agriculture side.”
In a letter sent Tuesday, 18 agricultural groups including the National Pork Producers Council argued that the restrictions on steel and aluminum could result in other countries retaliating by restricting their products, an outcome that they said would be “disastrous for the global trading system and for U.S. agriculture in particular.”
It’s been unclear whether the president would fulfill earlier promises to crack down on steel and aluminum imports, after walking back on other campaign-related trade promises, like the decision to label China a currency manipulator. In late April, the administration suddenly reversed a decision by the president to announce that the U.S. was withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement, after Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and other cabinet members briefed him on the damage they believed such an action would cause.
Members of the Senate Finance Committee who emerged from a briefing with Secretary Ross Thursday afternoon said it’s no longer a question of whether Trump acts to protect American steel, but how severely.
Ross's aides entered the room with three large poster boards, which they shielded from view of the reporters. One of the posters showed China's production and suggested that China had broken multiple promises when it comes to curbing the overcapacity of steel production, someone briefed on the poster said.