Donald Trump still plans on issuing his orders to apply tariffs on imported steel and aluminum despite a last-ditch effort to change his mind by advisors and Republicans in Congress. However, the order could now include temporary waivers for America’s two closest trading partners, Canada and Mexico, while negotiations continue for reworking NAFTA Either way, we may be waiting for a little longer than expected:
The White House says if Pres. Trump imposes tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, they “may not” apply to U.S. allies. @POTUS is expected to announce new policy as soon as today, even though a growing number of Republicans are urging him to reconsider https://t.co/BvhVFyDj9e pic.twitter.com/u2hcsmQ46m
— CBS News (@CBSNews) March 8, 2018
President Trump is planning to offer Canada and Mexico a temporary exemption from new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, reversing his original insistence that the measures apply to U.S. allies as well as nations like China, administration officials said Wednesday.
One version of the plan, which was still being finalized ahead of an expected announcement on Thursday, would give Canada and Mexico a 30-day exemption from the tariffs, the officials said. The exemptions could be extended based on progress in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The move comes as the White House signaled a new flexibility after a six-day drama that has roiled relations with the country’s closest allies, triggered the resignation of National Economic Council chief Gary Cohn and spooked investors. Republicans in Congress have been urging the president to narrow his proposed global tariffs to avoid boomeranging on U.S. businesses and consumers.
As one person replied to CBS’ tweet: “Isn’t that NAFTA?” Well, yeah, and that’s the point. Trump needs both Canada and Mexico to offer meaningful concessions in the NAFTA talks, which are ongoing but have been mighty quiet lately. Steve Mnuchin expressed cautious optimism earlier this week on their progress, but so far Trump hasn’t gotten the big W he promised. Applying tariffs in the middle of talks might have broken them down entirely, but 30-day exemptions still deliver the point without necessarily provoking an immediate trade war.
That still leaves other allies such as Australia out in the cold, unless Trump starts issuing even more waivers. At that point, though, the question will arise as to why Trump made these tariffs so broad in the first place. If he really wanted to go after China, why not just focus tariffs on their imports alone?
The order on tariffs could come as soon as today, but House conservatives are working to change Trump’s mind right down to the wire:
In recent days, the House Freedom Caucus, an influential bloc of hard-line conservatives in the House, has been privately urging Trump to back off his proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum, creating an even bigger schism between the White House and Congress on the president’s signature issue ahead of this year’s midterm elections, said three people briefed on those talks who were not authorized to speak publicly.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Freedom Caucus and one of Trump’s most trusted allies in Congress, has spoken with the president multiple times during the past week and relayed the group’s staunch opposition to the president’s trade stances, the people said.
Other Freedom Caucus members have also lobbied the White House, a senior administration official said.
Don’t count on a change of heart. Trump may have been inconsistent on some issues throughout his short political career and much longer public career, but Trump has always been a protectionist at heart. He launched his campaign on the basis of protectionism, embracing right-wing populism just as Bernie Sanders embraced left-wing populism through protectionism. Trump’s consistent message during the campaign starting in mid-2015 was that free trade was for suckers, and especially multilateral free-trade agreements that put sovereign decisions in the hands of supranational bureaucrats. The steel and aluminum industries are among the top protectionist issues.
Trump’s not likely to back down at this point; the temporary waivers for Canada and Mexico will likely be as far as he goes. Get ready for a late-afternoon press release that will detail who our “real friends” are. But that may be all we see today:
Looking forward to 3:30 P.M. meeting today at the White House. We have to protect & build our Steel and Aluminum Industries while at the same time showing great flexibility and cooperation toward those that are real friends and treat us fairly on both trade and the military.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 8, 2018
The tariffs themselves may wait for a day or two longer, NBC’s Today show reports:
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) March 8, 2018
Perhaps the House Freedom Caucus is having an impact.