President Trump Announces 25 Percent Tariff on Imported Steel, 10 Percent on Aluminum

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Mar 01 2018 |
File Photo

And the president has some bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.

President Trump on Thursday announced that he plans to issue a 25 percent tariff on steel imports, capping off a process that began more than 10 months ago when he launched an investigation into whether imports pose a threat to national security. But while Trump said he plans to issue the tariffs, his official, final decision is not expected until sometime next week.

Trump also said he plans to issue a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports, which were also the subject of a "Section 232" national security investigation.

The announcement came during a White House meeting with leading steel and aluminum industry executives and key administration officials. Trump told reporters that the administration "will probably have everything completed by next week."

"You're going to see a lot of good things happen, you are going to see expansions of the companies," Trump said.

"What's been allowed to go on for decades is disgraceful. It's disgraceful," he later added. "And, when it comes to a time when our country can't make aluminum and steel, and somebody said it before and I will tell you, you almost don't have much of a country, 'cause without steel and aluminum, your country's not the same. And we need it, we even need it for defense, you think. We need it for defense."

National defense is actually at the heart of the two Section 232 investigations, as the Commerce Department concluded that steel and aluminum imports "threaten to impair the national security." Tens of thousands of American workers have faced layoffs and dozens of factories have closed, because of these imports, which are often heavily subsidized by foreign governments and priced far below fair market value. American companies, which operate in a free market, simply cannot compete against foreign governments.

As a result, there is now just one American steelmaker capable of producing the steel needed for the electrical grid and only one steel company that can equip the military with the type of steel it needs to make Virginia-class submarines. Meanwhile, there's just one smelter that can make the high purity aluminum needed to build fighter jets like the F-35.

Trump's announcement drew bipartisan praise on Capitol Hill, including from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

"This welcome action is long overdue for shuttered steel plants across Ohio and steelworkers who live in fear that their jobs will be the next victims of Chinese cheating," Brown said. "President Trump must follow through on his committment today to save American steel jobs and stop Chinese steel overcapacity from continuing to infect global markets. If we fail to stand up for steel jobs today, China will come after other jobs up and down the supply chain tomorrow."

Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), the co-chairman of the Congressional Steel Caucus, said he was "very encouraged" by Trump's decision.

"As the Department of Commerce Section 232 investigation indicated, the domestic industry has suffered greatly at the hands of global steel overcapacity and unfair trade, which threatens our national security interests," Bost said. "We’ve seen the harm that unfair and illegal trade practices have done to our steel industry right in Madison County, with the idling of Granite City Works and layoffs at Alton Steel. Today’s announcement is a bold  step forward to stop unfair trade practices so American steelworkers can continue to make American steel that supports our military, critical infrastructure, and the livelihoods of American families.”

Steel executives at the White House meeting thanked Trump for launching the investigation and announcing action. Dave Burritt, president and CEO of U.S. Steel, said during the meeting that he's someone who "has global views and believes in free trade." But "we know when it's completely unfair," he added.

John Ferriola, the president and CEO of Nucor Corporation, echoed those remarks.

"Just look at last year. Last year, Mr. President, the imports increased 15 percent in 2017, over 2016," he said. "Once we initiated the beginning of the 232, other countries saw this as the need to get in before it went into effect. So what we're asking today is for fast action and action that will last."

Meanwhile, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said in a statement that "workers across the country have raised their voices in calling for the need of action to ensure that our aluminum and steel sectors can survive."

"The steel and aluminum sectors have been under attack by predatory trade practices," Gerard said. "For too long, our political leaders have talked about the problem, but have largely left enforcement of our trade laws up to the private sector. This is not what hard-working Americans want from their government. They expect national security, the foundation of which is built with steel and aluminum, to be protected."

Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul said Trump made "an encouraging show of support when he met with steel industry executives today. Now it's time to act." Here's more from Paul:

"We're on the brink of a potentially historic rebalance of America's trade priorities…. we are confident a robust steel trade action is good for our economy. A decision to restore sanity to global steel markets will help create domestic jobs and preserve our national security."

Paul urged Trump to take action in a letter sent to the White House on Wednesday, and AAM launched a cable television ad on Tuesday that also called on the president to issue his decision. Those efforts follow months of activism from factory workers, military leaders, policymakers and others, including: 

  • Both Republicans and Democrats have called upon President Trump to protect American jobs and defend our national security and act on steel and aluminum imports. The Congressional Steel Caucus specifically has continued to call for action, with co-chair Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.) noting in a Feb. 16 statement that "America's steel industry is not only integral to our economy, but is vitally important to our national security as well."
  • Ten retired military generals and flag officers wrote to Trump to highlight the threat imports pose to national security, writing that if "U.S. manufacturing capabilities are compromised, we will be forced to rely on countries like China and Russia to supply our military and critical infrastructure needs."
  • Dozens of steelworkers descended on Washington in September 2017 to push for action, telling lawmakers and members of the press that many of them, along with tens of thousands of their colleagues, have faced layoffs because of the ongoing imports crisis. The steelworkers noted that entire communities are hanging in the balance and pushed Trump to act as quickly as possible
  • AAM supporters have sent nearly 140,000 messages to the White House since the 232 investigation launched in April urging the president to act immediately to defend American-made steel and aluminum.