Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – Donald Trump ignited the United States’ first trade war since 1930 by inflicting heavy steel and aluminum tariffs on America’s closest allies, claiming these allies threaten U.S. national security.
Directly hit by the nonsensical U.S. tariffs were the European Union (EU), Canada and Mexico that count among the U.S.’ top trading partners and its closest geopolitical allies. The EU, Canada and Mexico publicly expressed anger and outrage at the tariffs, whose end result will see U.S. consumers paying more for everything from canned soup to cars, and the loss of up to two million jobs in the U.S.
Republicans were seething after the White House announced the imposition of steel and aluminum tariffs on the EU, Canada and Mexico on June 1. Previous to this, a bevy of Congressional Republicans tried, and failed, to convince the administration to target China with tariffs rather than U.S. trading partners.
Republicans on Capitol Hill will likely take action against Trump. The news has led to mounting speculation Congress will intervene to either soften or dismiss the new tariffs.
“I disagree with this decision,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who quietly tried to convince Trump to hold back on the action. “There are better ways to help American workers and consumers. I intend to keep working with the president on those better options.”
Republican lawmakers said the administration’s decision to impose a 25% tariff on steel imports and 10% on aluminum imports came as a painful surprise.
“This is dumb,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NB). “Europe, Canada and Mexico are not China, and you don’t treat allies the same way you treat opponents. We’ve been down this road before — blanket protectionism is a big part of why America had a Great Depression. ‘Make America Great Again’ shouldn’t mean ‘Make America 1929 Again.'”
The tariffs “are hitting the wrong target,” said Kevin Brady (R-TX), House Ways and Means Chairman. “When it comes to unfairly traded steel and aluminum, Mexico, Canada, and Europe are not the problem — China is. This action puts American workers and families at risk, whose jobs depend on fairly traded products from these important trading partners. And it hurts our efforts to create good-paying US jobs by selling more ‘Made in America’ products to customers in these countries.”
“I call on the administration to continue the exemptions and negotiations with these important national security partners to find a solution and address the damage caused to American exporters,” said Brady. “And the administration will need to come to Capitol Hill to provide answers about the indiscriminate harm these tariffs are causing our local businesses.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, bluntly said, “This is a big mistake.”
“These tariffs will raise prices and destroy manufacturing jobs, especially auto jobs, which are one-third of all Tennessee manufacturing jobs. I have urged President Trump to focus on reciprocity — do for our country what our country does for you — instead of imposing tariffs, which are basically higher taxes on American consumers.”
America’s allies are incensed and vow to inflict punishing tariffs on the U.S. in retaliation.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland announced $12.8 billion in retaliatory tariffs, which she called “the strongest trade action Canada has taken in the post-war era.” Starting July 1, Canada will levy “dollar-for-dollar” tariffs on a range of American-made goods, said Freeland. She said Canada has drawn-up two lists of products that will be subject to either 25% or 10% taxation until the U.S. changed its position.
The move to implement tariffs under the flimsy and illogical guise of national security measures angered U.S. allies. “These tariffs are totally unacceptable,” said Trudeau. “Over the past 150 years, Canada has been America’s most steadfast ally. These tariffs are an affront to the long-standing security partnership between Canada and the United States, and in particular, to the thousands of Canadians who have fought and died alongside American comrades-in-arms.”
Trudeau angrily said the very idea “Canada could be considered a national security threat to the United States is inconceivable.”
“This is not about the American people. We have to believe that at some point their common sense will prevail,” said Trudeau.
Mexico promised to impose tariffs of its own while the European Commission promised legal action via the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The European Commission (EC) said the EU “stands now ready to react to the U.S. trade restrictions on steel and aluminum in a swift, firm, proportionate and fully WTO-compatible manner. The E.U. will launch legal proceedings against the U.S. in the WTO on 1 June. The level of tariffs to be applied will reflect the damage caused by the new U.S. trade restrictions on E.U. products.”
“We react to the US restrictions on steel and aluminium affecting the EU. The EU believes these unilateral US tariffs are unjustified and at odds with World Trade Organisation rules. This is protectionism, pure and simple,” tweeted the EC.
EC President Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU was being hurt as much as the U.S. by overcapacity in the steel sector. He noted that the U.S. was “playing into the hands of those responsible for the problem (meaning China)” and that the EU now had no choice but to proceed with legal challenge via the WTO.
Mexico’s Ministry of Economy said “Mexico deeply regrets and rejects the decision of the United States to impose these tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from Mexico as of June 1, under the criterion of national security. Mexico will impose equivalent measures to various products in the face of U.S. protectionist measures.”
The United Kingdom said it was “deeply disappointed” by the U.S. decision. “The U.K. and other European Union countries are close allies of the U.S. and should be permanently and fully exempted from the American measures on steel and aluminum,” said a U.K. government spokesperson.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the tariffs would be incompatible with WTO rules and that Europe’s response must be “smart and determined.”
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said that Europe will take “all necessary measures” to respond. The EU previously said it will impose its own tariffs on U.S. products such as motorcycles and jeans.
German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said the EU’s response to the tariffs must be “clear, strong, and smart.”
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