Tariff plan raises trade tactic from the past

Updated 2018-03-06 09:42:07 China Daily

It was done in the same month, March, and for the same reason: to protect U.S. steelmakers from imports.

But the president who imposed steel tariffs of 8 to 30 percent on imports from Europe, Asia and South America on March 5, 2002, was George W. Bush.

"I take this action to give our domestic steel industry an opportunity to adjust to surges in foreign imports, recognizing the harm from 50 years of foreign government intervention in the global steel market, which has resulted in bankruptcies, serious dislocation and job loss," said Bush.

In announcing tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum on Thursday, Donald Trump said the tariffs would "last for a long time" and "we're going to build our steel industry back and we're going to build our (aluminum) industry back".

Bush's tariffs were to last three years, but he lifted them on Dec 4, 2003, almost two years after imposing them.

"These safeguard measures have now achieved their purpose, and as a result of changed economic circumstances, it is time to lift them," Bush said in a statement.

The tariffs had been declared illegal by the World Trade Organization, and their removal ended the threat of a trade war with Europe, Japan, China and the Republic of Korea.

Members of the European Union had threatened to impose duties on products made in key swing states that would be crucial to Bush's re-election effort, on goods ranging from Florida citrus products to automobiles in Michigan.

Leo W. Gerard, who was president of the United Steelworkers of America at the time, said Bush gave in to foreign pressure in lifting the tariffs.

This time around, Trump has said "trade wars are good".

The international community feels otherwise, with British Prime Minister Theresa May raising her "deep concern" at the tariff announcement in a phone call with Trump on Sunday.

The EU has said it is drawing up measures against leading US brands like Harley-Davidson and Levi's jeans, while China warned it "won't sit idly by" if its interests are hurt.

Canada, which has the most to lose as the top source of U.S. steel and aluminum imports, has called the tariffs "unacceptable".

Domestically, labor unions and Democrats are in the unusual position of applauding Trump's approach, while Republicans and an array of business groups are warning of dire economic and political consequences if he goes ahead with his plan.

Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, a Democrat who has called for Trump to resign, tweeted: "I urge the administration to follow through and to take aggressive measures to ensure our workers can compete on a level playing field."

However, Tim Phillips, president of the Americans for Prosperity advocacy group, feared retaliatory measures.

"It hurts the administration politically because trade wars, protectionism, they lead to higher prices for individual Americans," he said. "It's basically a tax increase."

AP and AFP contributed to this story

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