US President Donald Trump appears intent on moving forward next week on US steel and aluminum tariffs with no exemptions for allies, the US commerce secretary said Sunday, downplaying the threat of retaliation as “pretty trivial.”
“I know he’s had conversations with a number of the world leaders,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on ABC’s “This Week.” “The decision, obviously, is his. But as of the moment, as far as I know, he’s talking about a fairly broad brush.”
In a subsequent interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Ross allowed for the possibility that Trump may yet change his mind, as he has on other issues.
“We shall see. We shall see. I know a lot of ministers from a lot of countries have been talking with the president. They have been talking with me. They have been talking with others. We’ll see. The president makes the decisions,” he said.
Trump ignited fears of a trade war and an outcry from US trading partners this week when he abruptly announced blanket 25 percent tariffs on imported steel and 10% on aluminum.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said she raised her “deep concern” over the tariffs in a phone call with Trump on Sunday, her office said.
The European Union has said it is drawing up measures against leading US brands like Harley-Davidson and Levi’s jeans, while China warned it “won’t sit idly by” if its interests are hurt.
Canada, which has the most to lose as the top source of US steel and aluminum imports, has called the tariffs “unacceptable.”
Ross, who said he expected them to go into effect in the coming week, played down the impact on the US economy of retaliatory measures.
He said $9 billion in US tariffs would be a fraction of one percent of the US economy.
“So, the notion that it would destroy a lot of jobs, raise prices, disrupt things, is wrong,” he said.
A ‘rounding error’
“As to the idea of retaliation, sure there may well be some sort of retaliation, but the amounts that they’re talking about are also pretty trivial.
“It’s some $3 billion of goods that the Europeans have threatened to put something on. Well, in our sized economy, that’s a tiny, tiny fraction of one percent.”
“So while it might affect an individual producer for a little while, overall it’s not going to be much more than a rounding error,” he said.
The move has been highly controversial among Republicans and within the administration, but Trump on Friday tweeted that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.”
Peter Navarro, a top White House trade advisor, said the administration would consider exemptions on a case-by-case basis but “no country exclusions.”
“As soon as you start exempting countries you have to raise the tariffs on everybody else. As soon as you exempt one country, then you have to exempt another country and so it’s a slippery slope,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
National security rationale
Trump invoked national security as the rationale for imposing the tariffs, without making any distinction between friendly suppliers like Canada and potential adversaries like China or Russia.
Canada accounts for 40 percent of US aluminum imports and 16 percent of its steel imports, making it far and away the biggest US supplier.
But Navarro contends that China was “the root of the problem” despite being a relatively small player in the US steel and aluminum market.
“The bigger picture here is that China has tremendous overcapacity in both aluminum and steel. They flood the world market with this product and that ripples down to our shores and to other countries,” he said.
In Beijing, the spokesman for the National People’s Congress warned that “policies informed by misjudgment or wrong perceptions will hurt relations and bring consequences no side wants to see.”
“China doesn’t want a trade war with the United States,” Zhang told a news conference. “But if the US takes actions that hurt Chinese interests, China will not sit idly by.”
An official English-language interpreter added the phrase, “and will take necessary measures.”