WASHINGTON – US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Wednesday global tariffs on steel and aluminum were necessary to prevent China from routing those metals to the United States via other regions.
Ross made his remarks during an appearance before the Senate’s Finance Committee.
He said that since the tariffs were imposed Europe, Canada and Japan had begun to take forceful action against a global steel glut driven by Chinese production.
President Donald Trump’s administration decided in May to end a two-month exemption for the European Union, Canada and Mexico – the US’s largest trading partners – from a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum.
Japan was hit with the tariffs in March, when Trump announced the measures, although since then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has tried to negotiate an exemption agreement.
“Suddenly Europe is enacting safeguards against steel dumping into Europe. They didn’t do much before,” Ross said. “Canada is taking action. Japan for the first time has created an enforcement body ... to deal with the problem.”
“While they’re complaining bitterly about the tariffs, the fact is they’re starting to take the kind of action which if they had taken sooner would have prevented this crisis,” Ross said.
But the tariffs prompted criticism from many senators, including members of Trump’s Republican party.
Orrin Hatch, a GOP senator from Utah, slammed the Trump administration for invoking national security to justify the tariffs.
“The lessons of the steel and aluminum tariffs are clear: these tariffs do not support US national security. Instead, they harm American manufacturers, damage our economy, hurt American consumers and disrupt our relationship with our long-time allies while giving China a free pass,” Hatch said.
Ross also referred to the US’s longstanding concerns about China’s alleged theft of American intellectual property, an accusation leveled in justifying recent separate tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports (and in threatening to target an additional $400 billion of imports from the Asian giant).
“The president feels and I agree that now is the time for action,” Ross said. “And unless we make it more painful for them to continue those practices than to do otherwise, unless we put that kind of pressure on, it’s unlikely we’ll succeed.”