After a week of hints and negotiations, President Donald Trump said Thursday he would announce tariffs on imported steel and aluminum but with temporary exemptions for Canada and Mexico as he seeks to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement.
He suggested Australia and “other countries” might also be spared, a shift that could soften the international blow amid threats of retaliation by trading partners.
Supporters say the move is a hint that the White House isn’t seeking a trade war — but is instead using America’s power to negotiate better deals for American workers.
Trump, the master of the deal, seems to be working his magic.
The White House said Trump would sign the orders on Thursday afternoon as opponents of the tariffs engaged in last-minute negotiations to blunt the impact.
“We’re going to be very fair, we’re going to be very flexible but we’re going to protect the American worker as I said I would do in my campaign,” Trump said during a Cabinet meeting.
The president reiterated that he would levy tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum but would “have a right to go up or down depending on the country and I’ll have a right to drop out countries or add countries. I just want fairness.”
The president indicated Canada and Mexico’s treatment would be connected to the ongoing NAFTA talks, which are expected to resume in early April.
Trump was still hearing last-minute plea bargain deals from opponents of the tariff plan, and White House officials said they couldn’t predict how the day would shake out.
Steel and aluminum workers were invited to the White House for the afternoon announcement with Trump.
Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade and manufacturing adviser, said in an interview on Fox Business on Wednesday that the tariffs would go into effect within about 15 to 30 days and that the proclamation signed by the president would include a clause that would not immediately impose tariffs on Canada and Mexico.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the exemptions would be made on a “case by case” and “country by country” basis.
Congressional Republicans and business groups are bracing for the impact of the tariffs, appearing resigned to additional protectionist trade actions as Trump signals upcoming economic battles with China.
The looming departure of Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive who has opposed the promised tariffs, set off anxiety among business leaders and investors worried about a potential trade war.
At the White House, officials were working to include language in the tariffs that would give Trump the flexibility to approve exemptions for certain countries — if the make the right trade deals with the United States.
“He’s already indicated a degree of flexibility, I think a very sensible, very balanced degree of flexibility,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC. “We’re not trying to blow up the world.”
Trump signaled other trade actions could be in the works. In a tweet, he said the “U.S. is acting swiftly on Intellectual Property theft.” A White House official said Trump was referencing an ongoing investigation of China in which the U.S. trade representative is studying whether Chinese intellectual property rules are “unreasonable or discriminatory” to American business.
The official said an announcement on the findings of the report — and possible retaliatory actions — was expected within the next three weeks.
The president has said the tariffs are needed to reinforce lagging American steel and aluminum industries and protect national security.
He has tried to use the tariffs as leverage in ongoing talks to renegotiate NAFTA, suggesting Canada and Mexico might be exempted from tariffs if they offer more favorable terms under the trade agreement.
The Associated Press contributed to this article