WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump pressed ahead on Thursday with import tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent for aluminum but exempted Canada and Mexico and offered the possibility of excluding other allies, backtracking from an earlier “no-exceptions” stance.
Describing the dumping of steel and aluminum in the U.S. market as “an assault on our country,” Trump said in a White House announcement that the best outcome would for companies to move their mills and smelters to the United States. He insisted that domestic metals production was vital to national security.
“If you don’t want to pay tax, bring your plant to the USA,” added Trump, flanked by steel and aluminum workers.
Plans for the tariffs, set to start in 15 days, have stirred opposition from business leaders and prominent members of Trump’s own Republican Party, who fear the duties could spark retaliation from other countries and hurt the U.S. economy.
Within minutes of the announcement, U.S. Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a Trump critic, said he would introduce a bill to nullify the tariffs. Republican Orrin Hatch, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said he would work with the White House to “mitigate the damage.”
But some Democrats praised the move, including Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who said it was “past time to defend our interests, our security and our workers in the global economy and that is exactly what the president is proposing with these tariffs.”
Trump’s unexpected announcement of the tariffs last week roiled stock markets as it raised the prospect of an escalating global trade war. He appeared to have conceded some ground after a campaign by Republican lawmakers, industry groups and U.S. allies abroad.
Canada, the largest supplier of both steel and aluminum to the United States, welcomed the news it would not immediately be subject to the tariffs, but vowed to keep lobbying Washington until the threat of duties had disappeared.Trump offered relief from steel and aluminum tariffs to countries that “treat us fairly on trade,” a gesture aimed at putting pressure on Canada and Mexico to give ground in separate talks on renegotiating North American Free Trade Agreement.
Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said NAFTA talks were “independent” of Trump’s tariff actions and should not be subject to outside pressure.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada considered the two tracks to be totally separate.
U.S. steel stocks, which have gained for weeks on anticipation of the tariffs, fell after the announcement, with the Standard and Poor’s composite steel index .SPCOMSTEEL ending down 2.53 percent against a half percent gain in the broad S&P 500 .SP500 index.
The Canadian dollar and Mexican peso gained slightly against the U.S. dollar.
A senior Trump administration official said other countries could seek talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to find “alternative ways” to mitigate the threat to U.S. national security posed by their steel and