President Trump has moved a step closer to punishing Chinese steel exports, but the question may be: Is it too late to help U.S. steelworkers?
With American steel executives surrounding him, Trump signed a memo Thursday ordering the Commerce Department to expedite an investigation of whether steel imports damage U.S. national security. While China was not named, it is the world largest steel exporter, controlling more than half of the global market.
Trump said it was “an historic day for American steel and, most importantly, for American steelworkers.” But he added that “this has nothing to do with China.”
The Commerce Department investigation involves a law that allows the federal government to impose sweeping tariffs on imports of steel to protect U.S. industry on national security grounds. The law was adopted in 1962 but has rarely been used.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the review would consider how much steel the United States needs for defense industries like naval shipyards. He said imports now account for a quarter of the steel used in the U.S> and the study would determine how those impirts impact national defense.
“The important question is protecting our defense needs,” Ross said. “And we will do whatever is necessary to do that.”
U.S. steelmakers applauded the president’s action. “For too long, China and other nations have been conducting economic warfare against the American steel industry by subsidizing their steel industries, distorting global markets, and dumping excess steel into the United States,” U.S. Steel said in a statement.
The United Steelworkers union also supported the move but noted that “one of the major flaws in our current trade enforcement system is that we have to lose market share and jobs first in order to restore fair trade.”