Tue | Jan 22, 2019

Trump says he won't back down on tariffs plan

Published:Tuesday | March 6, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Finished rolls of aluminum as they come off the last stage of the production line. AP


President Donald Trump insisted yesterday that he's "not backing down" on his plan to impose stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminium despite anxious warnings from House Speaker Paul Ryan and other congressional Republicans of a possible trade war.

The president said that North American neighbours Canada and Mexico would not get any relief from his plan to place the tariffs on the imports but suggested he might be willing to exempt the two longstanding allies if they agreed to better terms for the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"No, we're not backing down," Trump said in the Oval Office, seated with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "We've had a very bad deal with Mexico, we've had a very bad deal with Canada - it's called NAFTA," Trump said.

The president opened the door to exempting the two countries from the planned tariffs, telling reporters, "that would be, I would imagine, one of the points that we'll negotiate." But he added, "If they aren't going to make a fair NAFTA deal, we're just going to leave it this way."

Trump spoke shortly after a spokeswoman for House Speaker Ryan said the GOP leader was "extremely worried" about the tariffs setting off a trade war and had urged the White House "to not advance with this plan." Republican leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee, meanwhile, circulated a letter opposing Trump's tariff plan.

The administration says the tariffs are necessary to preserve the American industries - and that imposing them is a national security imperative. But Trump's comments and tweets earlier in the day suggested he was also using them as leverage in the current talks to revise NAFTA. The latest round of a nearly yearlong renegotiation effort is concluding this week in Mexico City.

He tweeted, "Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum will only come off if new & fair NAFTA agreement is signed. Also, Canada must treat our farmers much better. Highly restrictive. Mexico must do much more on stopping drugs from pouring into the US."

... 'Absolutely unacceptable'

United States President Donald Trump's tariff plan has been branded "absolutely unacceptable" by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission has said the European Union could respond by taxing American goods including Bourbon, blue jeans and Harley Davidson motorcycles.

The tariffs will be made official in the next two weeks, White House officials said Monday, as the administration defended the protectionist decision from critics in Washington and overseas.

Speaking on 'Fox and Friends', White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said: "25 per cent on steel, and the 10 per cent on aluminium, no country exclusions - firm line in the sand."

Trump's pronouncement last week that he would impose the tariffs roiled markets and rankled allies.