(ABC TODAY) U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade and manufacturing adviser says the president’s planned tariffs for steel and aluminum imports would not immediately apply to Canada and Mexico.
Peter Navarro told Fox Business on Wednesday evening that Trump intends to sign a proclamation including such a clause favouring the two neighbouring countries.
Navarro said the tariffs would go into effect within 15 to 30 days.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Wednesday that exemptions to the proposed tariffs would be made on a “case-by-case” and “country-by-country” basis, a reversal from the policy articulated by the White House just days ago that there would be no exemptions from Trump’s plan.
Congressional Republicans and business groups have been bracing for the impact of expected tariffs of 25 per cent on imported steel and 10 per cent on aluminum, appearing resigned to additional protectionist trade actions as Trump signalled upcoming economic battles with China.
The looming departure of White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive who has opposed the promised tariffs, set off anxiety among business leaders and investors worried about a potential trade war.
“We urge you to reconsider the idea of broad tariffs to avoid unintended negative consequences to the U.S. economy and its workers,” 107 House Republicans wrote in a letter to Trump.
At the White House, officials were working to include language in the tariffs that would give Trump the flexibility to approve exemptions for certain countries.
“He’s already indicated a degree of flexibility, I think a very sensible, very balanced degree of flexibility,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC. “We’re not trying to blow up the world.”
Trump has signalled that other trade actions could be in the works.
In a tweet, he said the “U.S. is acting swiftly on Intellectual Property theft.” A White House official said Trump was referencing an ongoing investigation of China in which the U.S. trade representative is studying whether Chinese intellectual property rules are “unreasonable or discriminatory” to American business.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said an announcement on the findings of the report and possible retaliatory actions was expected within the next three weeks.
Business leaders, meanwhile, continued to sound the alarm about the potential economic fallout from tariffs, with the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce raising the spectre of a global trade war. That scenario, Tom Donohue said, would endanger the economic momentum from the Republican tax cuts and Trump’s rollback of regulations.
“We urge the administration to take this risk seriously,” Donohue said.
The president has said the tariffs are needed to reinforce lagging American steel and aluminum industries and protect national security. He has tried to use the tariffs as leverage in ongoing talks to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement, suggesting Canada and Mexico might be exempted from tariffs if they offer more favourable terms under NAFTA.