Sen. Portman breaks with President Trump over tariffs

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is breaking with President Donald Trump on his plan to increase tariffs.

Trump announced in March that he was imposing tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum, but he temporarily granted a waiver to U.S allies like Canada, Mexico and the European Union, and also to China, as his administration said trade talks were continuing.

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Trump ended that temporary relief this month, seeking to pressure the other countries to cut new trade agreements with the U.S. Japan was never granted a waiver, despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pleas.

Here’s what Portman had to say:

“Action is needed to address the worldwide overcapacity of steel, but I believe we should take a more targeted approach.

We should focus on countries that distort markets and repeatedly violate trade laws, and on the steel and aluminum products that are most at risk from a national security perspective.

I am concerned that broad-based tariffs will have unintended consequences for downstream steel and aluminum users and will unnecessarily invite retaliation in the form of tariffs against U.S. exports.

We need a more balanced approach that provides relief for the U.S. steel industry in a targeted way, by countries and products. For example, we know that imports of grain-oriented electrical steel have increased by 101 percent in the last year while prices dropped between 30 to 35 percent.

Without relief, AK Steel – the last electrical steel manufacturer in the United States – has told me they’ll have to shut down the last production line in the entire country of grain-oriented electrical steel, which is a key component of the power transformers that make up our critical infrastructure.

Yet as currently constructed, AK Steel is unlikely to fully benefit from the remedy proposed by the president. I’ve urged him to reconsider this issue and make electrical steel a priority so AK Steel can fully benefit from this remedy and we can protect these jobs.

A more focused and balanced approach will provide relief to the products most at risk, like electrical steel, while minimizing the potential harm to downstream steel and aluminum users.

I’m pleased that administration officials have indicated that there may be some exemptions from this policy, including for Canada and Mexico while an updated NAFTA is negotiated. In addition, I continue to believe that we must do more to use the tools we have available to us to protect American jobs.

I am co-author of the Leveling the Playing Field Act and the ENFORCE Act, new tools that can be used to protect American jobs from unfairly traded imports. I believe these tools should be used more aggressively to combat transshipment of steel and hold accountable countries that violate our trade laws and international rules.

Using the Leveling the Playing Field Act, we have won four trade cases in the past two years on steel and aluminum products. As a result of winning these cases, there are new tariffs on key steel imports – cold-rolled, hot-rolled and corrosion-resistant steel.

I will review the details of the president’s announcement and continue to work with the administration and my colleagues in the Senate on this important issue.”

Letter to president

Portman – along with Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Bob Casey (D-PA) – urged President Trump to prioritize electrical steel in any section 232 trade remedy.

As currently constructed, AK Steel, the last electrical steel manufacturer in the United States, is unlikely to fully benefit from the remedy announced today.

AK Steel has a grain-oriented electrical steel production line in Butler, Pennsylvania and a finishing line in Zanesville, Ohio. Read the full letter to the president here.

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