The Trump administration's decision to impose tariffs on aluminum and steel imports drew warnings Friday from businesses and U.S. trading partners that the measure could backfire, provoking a trade war without resolving the problems it's intended to address.
President Donald Trump said the tariffs, due to take effect in 15 days, are needed to protect U.S. workers. Businesses say the 25 percent tariff on imported steel and 10 percent levy on aluminum will jack up costs, raising prices for consumers and potentially putting people out of work.
Trump has long singled out China as being unfair in its trade practices and for dumping cheap steel on the global markets, depressing prices. But experts say the new tariffs will in fact not affect China much, but rather hurt key allies like the European Union and South Korea.
The move drew consternation outside the U.S.
The Chinese government said it "firmly opposes" the move but gave no indication whether it might make good on threats to retaliate.
"These measures could make a significant impact on the economic and cooperative relationship between Japan and the U.S., who are allies," said Japan's foreign minister, Taro Kono.
The EU said it hoped to be exempt from the tariffs, like Canada and Mexico are, or that the issue might be solved in international arbitration at the World Trade Organization.
If not, the EU vowed to retaliate.
"We will have to protect our industry with rebalancing measures," said Cecilia Malmstroem, the EU Trade Commissioner, who this week confirmed that EU states are finalizing a list of U.S. goods — from peanut butter to bourbon — to hit with retaliatory tariffs.
The head of Eurofer, Europe's main steel federation, said Trump's reasons for slapping tariffs on steel and aluminum were an absurdity and that the move could cost tens of thousands of jobs across the continent.
The tariffs would cost lost trade worth $2.6 billion a year for the EU and $1.1 billion for South Korea, according to Chad Bow, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
"Significant damage in South Korea's steel exports to the United States seems unavoidable," the country's trade minister, Paik Un-gyu, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the tariffs would cost China only $689 million in trade losses, according to Bow's estimates, largely because the U.S. has already imposed duties on Chinese products.
In Asia, a large share of Japanese and Chinese steel goes to countries in the region's southeast, where booming construction and light industries are fueling strong demand for steel.
The U.S. tariffs could push producers to sell still more to Southeast Asia, depressing steel prices. That would hurt producers but boost profits of construction and other industries in Southeast Asia.
The costs to the world economy could grow further if countries impose their own tariffs on U.S. products, raising prices for goods globally and undermining economic confidence.
Some are also worried that the Trump administration might not be done imposing tariffs.
Previously, more than 100 House Republicans asked Trump to reconsider the idea of broad tariffs on steel and aluminum imports — in order to avoid unintended consequences to the U.S. economy.
The lawmakers said in a letter to the president that tariffs are taxes that make U.S. businesses less competitive and consumers poorer.
There was political criticism aplenty, especially from Trump's own Republican Party.
House Speaker Paul Ryan warned of "unintended consequences." And Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin called the tariffs "a very risky action" that could put agricultural and manufacturing jobs at risk.
"I'm not sure there are any winners in trade wars," said Johnson, who once ran a plastics manufacturing business in his home state.
Top Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn left the White House after breaking with Trump on trade policy.
Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, was the leading internal opponent to Trump's planned tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum. "We are ready for a trade war," said Enggartiasto Lukito, the trade minister. Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the country had the option of retaliating against imports of U.S. soybeans, wheat and aircraft.
In the U.S., Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which represents more than 2,200 companies, said the tariffs could cost far more American jobs than they would create.
U.S. automakers are among the businesses with the most at stake, accounting for 38 percent of the aluminum and 15 percent of the steel consumed in the country, according to Ward's Automotive Reports.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers warned the tariffs will also drive up the price of steel made in the U.S.
Housing trade groups also took a dim view of the tariffs, saying the policy would raise costs and slow building at a time when the nation faces a severe shortage in homes and rental housing.
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