Updated at 2:47 p.m. ET
President Trump promised steel and aluminum executives Thursday that he will levy tariffs on imports of their products in coming weeks. He said the imported steel will face tariffs of 25 percent, while aluminum will face tariffs of 10 percent.
“We’re going to build our steel industry back and we’re going to build our aluminum industry back,” Trump told reporters.
The president announced the action after meeting with leaders of the two industries at the White House. On Thursday afternoon, major stock market indexes fell sharply after Trump’s announcement, with the Dow Jones industrial average down more than 500 points, or about 2 percent.
The decision follows a study by the Commerce Department that found that large amounts of steel and aluminium imports posed a threat to U.S. national security. That finding gives the White House the authority to limit imports by tariffs or by other means.
Earlier Thursday, Trump tweeted: “Our Steel and Aluminum industries (and many others) have been decimated by decades of unfair trade and bad policy with countries from around the world. We must not let our country, companies and workers be taken advantage of any longer. We want free, fair and SMART TRADE!”
U.S. Steel CEO David Burritt, one of the industry executives who met with Trump, said, “We are not protectionists. We want a level playing field. It’s for our employees; to support our customers. And when we get this right, it will be great for the United States of America.”
John Lapides, president of United Aluminum Corp., said unfair competition has hurt investment in his business, “and that lack of investment is reflected in a loss of jobs in America. … And we need a level playing field, or we’re going to lose our manufacturing infrastructure and the national security issues that surround having a vibrant, capable manufacturing sector.”
The tariffs are a response to the overproduction of steel and aluminium by China. But since there are already import restrictions on those products from China, new barriers are likely to have an impact on European allies, as well as Canada and Mexico, which could trigger retaliation.
As NPR’s Scott Horsley reported, the Commerce Department argues that growing imports of steel and aluminum, driven in part by overproduction in China, have so weakened America’s producers that a future military mobilization could be at risk.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recommended a tariff of at least 24 percent on steel imported from any country and a tariff of at least 7.7 percent on aluminum imported from any country. Ross offered another set of options that would have set a tariff of at least 53 percent on steel from 12 countries including Brazil, China and Russia and a tariff of at least 23.6 percent on aluminum from China, Hong Kong, Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam.