Donald Trump has signed off on his controversial orders to increase tariffs on steel and aluminum in direct defiance to the international community, his own party, and his former economic advisor, arguing that he was making good on his campaign promises. Under the new rules, tariffs of 25% are to be placed on steel and 10% on aluminum imported into the US.
Trump signed the paperwork at a hastily arranged event at the White House where he announced that Canada and Mexico would be exempted from the tariffs as he was still eager to renegotiate the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The exemption is only temporary, however, as many still believe that Trump intends on tearing up the agreement.
Another country that would possibly be exempt is Australia although Trump was unclear as to whether Australia would be fully exempt or what the exemptions would entail.
Flanked by steel and aluminum workers, as well as key staff members, Trump defended his tariffs as protecting America’s interest, alleviating what he has repeatedly called unfair practices and billions of dollars of trade deficits. He claimed that this move would boost US industry and would restore an ailing steel industry, a theme that he often returned to as a presidential candidate in 2016.
Despite his positive tone and his vigorous defense, Trump’s actions have been widely condemned on many sides. His own party is bitterly divided on the issue in a grueling month that has seen the GOP divided on guns as well. The fact that no congressional Republicans were at the event was a visible sign of their divide stance on the issue and of Trump’s defiance with decades of both Republican policy and international wisdom.
The departure of Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic advisor, has also left Republicans reeling after a week of high profile departures. Cohn, a Democrat who helped Trump’s tax reform pass, was a close advisor and a useful connection between Trump and Congress. His departure leaves a huge gap to fill with Republicans concerned that their voices will not be heard, that Trump will instead try to push his views on the party.
The outcry over the tariffs has been more vocal abroad with both Europe and China promising to respond accordingly to Trump’s threats. Although neither wants to escalate the planned tariffs into a trade war, the prospect of one seems ever more likely as Trump seems intent on disrupting the idea of global free trade doctrine.
Others who are disturbed by the new tariffs are those who use steel and aluminum to create goods as experts fear that the new tariffs will affect both jobs in manufacturing, possibly offsetting the planned revival of jobs in the steel industries and the price of the finished goods. The stock markets have also been on edge over the announcements and the possible repercussions of a trade war although the Dow Jones closed up 94 points after Trump signed the paperwork.
The new rules are due to come into effect in 15 days, but the concerns surrounding them are set to grow in the next few weeks and months. For all the talk of fulfilling his promises, Trump may regret sparking a global pricing war, especially when his own supporters feel the pinch on their wallets.