Just days after Trump backed away from a trade war with China, the Trump administration launched a National-Security Probe on Steel Imports.

For good measure, Trump blasted Canada over its dairy product policy.

The Trump administration has opened a wide-ranging probe into whether to curb steel imports in the name of national security, ramping up its campaign to give a more economic nationalist tinge to American trade policy.

“Steel is critical to both our economy and our military,” President Donald Trump said at a White House ceremony Thursday with steel industry and labor leaders to highlight the new investigation. “This is not an area where we can afford to become dependent on foreign countries.”

“Over the last 30 years, there has been a very narrow view as to what would constitute a threat to national security,” said Terence P. Stewart, a Washington trade lawyer who represents U.S. manufacturers and has long advocated the more expansive approach to national security Mr. Trump is now exploring.

In the past, Mr. Stewart said, administrations concluded that if key products were available from allies—like Canada, South Korea and Mexico, three of the largest steel providers to the U.S.—then losing manufacturing capability wasn’t considered a threat. The new administration, he said, has a view “contrary to that, believing we need a strong manufacturing base for adequate national security.”

Foreign steelmakers were quick to criticize the move. The U.S. investigation “will be very bad for the U.S. economy, very bad for steel-consuming industries—such as construction and manufacturing, which depend on a reliable supply of steel imports—and bad for foreign steel producers such as the Japanese industry,” said Tadaaki Yamaguchi, chairman of the Japan Steel Information Center, the U.S. voice of the Japanese industry.

Mr. Trump struck a particularly harsh tone Thursday, going beyond the steel measure to take several swipes at Canada, calling its dairy policy “a disgrace” and reiterating his desire to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he branded “a disaster.”

Mr. Trump’s strategy involves significant risks of retaliation. Any unilateral declaration of import restrictions for national security “could have severe economic repercussions,” the White & Case law firm wrote in a recent memo posted on the firm’s website assessing possible measures the Trump administration could invoke to toughen U.S. trade policy. “A target country would likely retaliate with equivalent measures on U.S. goods,” it said.

Self-Imposed Disaster

I side with those who say steel tariffs would be a self-imposed disaster.

Lewis Leibowitz, a Washington attorney who has worked on cases involving the trade act in the past said “For every steelworker, there are 60 workers in steel-using industries. You need competitive steel prices for those industries to be competitive and to export.”

The idea that there is a net gain from overpaying for products is ludicrous. Leibowitz provides the steel math: 60-1.

If Trump follows through, and who can possibly predict what he might or will do, China is sure to retaliate. A cancellation of Boeing aircraft orders just might knock some sense into Trump’s head, or not.

But why bother? Trump is as likely to change his mind on this tomorrow as he is to act on his threat. He has already backed off labeling China a currency manipulator after promising that multiple times during the campaign. He has reversed course on Syria and Russia.

How about the wall? I have heard little of making Mexico pay for it in recent weeks.

The message here is simple: If you don’t like Trump’s foreign policy, then wait a day or so. It’s likely to be more to your liking. If you do like it, you likely soon won’t.

Related Articles

  1. Navarro Nonsense and the Folly of Trump’s Proposed Tariffs
  2. “Death by China”: Beijing Fires “Trade Cooperation Warning” at Trump
  3. Will Globalization Survive Trump?
  4. Reflections and Reader Comments on Free Trade: “China Doesn’t Play Fair!”

Mike “Mish” Shedlock