President Trump and several Cabinet members hosted a meeting with congressional Republicans and Democrats on February 13, 2018 at the White House to discuss possible trade remedies in the Section 232 steel and aluminum investigations. The purpose of a Section 232 investigation is to determine the effect of imports on the national security of the United States, and the president stated that his administration is reviewing the final Department of Commerce reports submitted last month and considering all options. He told those attending that quotas and tariffs are options on the table.
In opening the discussions, President Trump stated that while he wants to keep prices down, he also wishes to “make sure that we have a steel industry and aluminum industry, and we do need that for national defense. If we ever have a conflict, we don’t want to be buying the steel from a country that we’re fighting because somehow that doesn’t work very well.” Several senators urged caution, however, including Senator Roy Blunt, who said, “we do need to be careful here that we don’t start a reciprocal battle on tariffs” because the United States not only makes aluminum and steel but also must buy and import these products to satisfy domestic demand. Others cautioned President Trump on the issue of jobs, noting that with so many items manufactured in the United States using steel and aluminum, import tariffs could actually result in a net job loss. In response, the president stated, “In one case, you’re going to create jobs. You may have a higher price or maybe a little bit higher, but you’re going to have jobs. In the other case, you may have a lower price, but you’re not going have jobs; it’s going to be made in China and other places.”
Senator Pat Toomey cautioned the president to proceed cautiously under Section 232 for national security reasons, arguing that U.S. defense needs account for only about 3 percent of domestic steel consumption. “So I think it’s implausible to believe that we’re not able to meet the needs of our defense industry,” he said, indicating that invoking national security concerns could be difficult to support and invite retaliation. Others urged caution in the scope of any enforcement action resulting from the investigations. Commerce Secretary Ross noted that Section 232 remedies do not require “the same tariff on every single country. It doesn’t have to mean the same tariff on every single product. It can be applied in a much more surgical way. And we presented the President with a range of alternatives that goes from a big tariff on everything from everywhere, to very selective tariffs from a very selective group of countries.”
The meeting also included brief comments by multiple participants on other trade matters, including South Korea (the KORUS FTA is a “very bad trade deal”), China (is “violating the international rules, stealing our intellectual property, overproducing steel products”), Canada (has “treated us very, very unfairly when it comes to lumber and timber”), and NAFTA (the renegotiations are “making real headway” but still working through a number of issues).
A full transcript of the meeting is available on the White House website: Remarks by President Trump, Members of Congress, and Members of the Cabinet in Meeting on Trade.