The new tariffs imposed by the U. S. on aluminium and steel imports, due to an alleged threat to national security, are a “wanton attack” on the multilateral trade system, a Chinese commerce official said Friday.
The tariffs, signed Thursday by President Donald Trump, are “protectionism in the name of national security,” said Wang Hejun, director of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce’s Trade Relief and Investigation Bureau.
Trump brushed aside warnings from his own conservative lawmakers and foreign trading partners in imposing the tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminium products.
Flanked by steel mill workers carrying hard hats, he signed proclamations invoking a rarely used U.S. law authorising presidential action against imports that undermine national security.
Trump said steel and aluminium are “absolutely vital” to critical infrastructure and the defence-industrial base.
The U.S. president argued that “dumping” of cheap imports is eroding U.S manufacturers’ ability to survive.
“Today I’m defending America’s national security by placing tariffs on foreign imports of steel and aluminium,”
Trump declared during the White House ceremony.
But Wang said the vast majority of U.S. steel and aluminium imports were civilian products.
“The misuse of the ‘national security exception’ clause by the U. S. is a wanton attack on the multilateral trade system represented by the WTO and will surely have a grave impact on the normal international trade order,” Wang said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Thursday that a trade war with the U.S. “is never the right solution,” however, Beijing was prepared to administer “the necessary and justified response.”
Trump first announced plans a week ago for global import tariffs on steel and aluminium products, drawing sharp reactions from the EU, China and other metals producers.
Canada and Mexico are initially exempt from the tariffs amid ongoing talks to revise the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
If renegotiations are completed, “there won’t be any tariffs” on the two U.S. neighbours, Trump said.
After the signing ceremony, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said the EU should also be exempt from the ruling because it is a close ally of the US.
“We continue to be of the view that the EU should be excluded from these measures. I will seek more clarity on this issue in the days to come,” she tweeted, noting an upcoming Saturday meeting with US Trade Representative Robet Lighthizer.
The 28-country bloc has previously vowed to impose counter-tariffs on iconic American products, including many from pro-Trump states, such as bourbon, Harley Davidson motorcycles, Levi’s jeans, peanut butter, cranberries and orange juice.
The way Washington proposed implementing tariffs was “wrong”, Britain’s Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox added Thursday, while Japan’s Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko said Trump’s decision was “extremely regrettable.”
No fewer than 100 Republicans in Congress signed a letter Wednesday to Trump opposing a broad action against steel and aluminium imports, saying that tariffs are “taxes that make U.S. businesses less competitive and consumers poorer.”
Under the 1962 law authorising trade barriers to protect national security, the tariffs are to take effect within 15 days of Trump’s declaration.
He suggested foreign producers could move their manufacturing into the United States to avoid the tariffs.
Earlier, during a cabinet meeting, Trump vowed flexibility on the trade barriers, telling reporters that he could change the tariffs “up or down depending on the country.”
“I’ll have a right to drop out countries or add countries,” he said. “We just want fairness, because we have not been treated fairly by other countries.”
Canada’s exemption was “logical and right,” Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters in Toronto.
“It’s inconceivable that Canada – which is a full partner of the US in NORAD [and] in NATO, is by U.S. law a part of the defence industrial base – it’s inconceivable that we could represent a threat,” she said.
Immediately on taking office in January 2017, Trump pulled the US out of the completed but unratified Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal.
The remaining 11 countries in the agreement signed a revamped version of the trade pact Thursday in Santiago de Chile.
Representatives from Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore gave their signatures to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership .
Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz called the agreement a “strong signal against protectionist pressures.”