Determined to protect vital American industries, President Donald Trump declared Thursday that he will impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, dramatically raising the possibility of a trade showdown with China and other trading partners.
Trump summoned steel and aluminum executives to the White House and told them that next week he would levy penalties of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports. Those tariffs, he said, will remain for “a long period of time.”
“What’s been allowed to go on for decades is disgraceful. It’s disgraceful,” Trump told them in the Cabinet Room. “You will have protection for the first time in a long while and you’re going to regrow your industries.”
Increased foreign production, especially by China, has driven down prices and hurt U.S. producers, creating a situation the Commerce Department calls a national security threat.
Any action to impose tariffs is likely to escalate simmering tensions with China and other U.S. trading partners. Critics of such a move fear that other countries will retaliate or use national security as a pretext to impose trade penalties of their own. They also argue that sanctions on imports will drive up prices and hurt U.S. companies that use steel or aluminum.
The possibility of an announcement, on an issue overseen by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, caught some insiders off guard.
Shares of U.S. Steel, AK Steel Holding Corp. and Century Aluminum Co. dropped mid-morning on news the announcement had been delayed, then rebounded two hours later after Trump said the tariffs were coming next week.
Trump met more than a dozen executives, including representatives from U.S. Steel Corp., Arcelor Mittal, Nucor, JW Aluminum and Century Aluminum. The industry leaders urged Trump to act, saying they had been unfairly hurt by a glut of imports and foreign countries circumventing trade rules.
“We are not protectionist. We want a level playing field,” said Dave Burritt, president and chief executive officer at U.S. Steel. “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. We have to get this done.”
Trump tweeted earlier Thursday that many U.S industries, including steel and aluminum “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!”
The president had until April 11 to make a final decision on steel and until April 19 to decide about aluminum.
The Commerce Department had recommended tariffs on all steel and aluminum imports, higher tariffs on imports from specific countries or a quota on imports.
Trump last year ordered an investigation into whether aluminum and steel imports posed a threat to national defense. Ross said last month that the imports “threaten to impair our national security,” noting, for example, that only one U.S. company now produces a high-quality aluminum alloy needed for military aircraft.
Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 gives the president authority to restrict imports and impose unlimited tariffs if a Commerce Department investigation finds a national security threat.
The Associated Press contributed to this article