On Tuesday, July 25, President Trump spoke with the Wall Street Journal, mentioning that the administration would be taking its time on determining whether to restrict steel imports. Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced in April that the Administration would be investigating the effects of steel and aluminum imports on national security under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. Although the law gives Commerce 270 days to make its recommendations, their self-imposed deadline on the report for steel was June 30, which came and went with no action.
Trump indicated that steel would have to wait until his other top-priority issues get addressed, saying that “we’re waiting till we get everything finished up between health care and taxes and maybe even infrastructure.”
Commerce had called for public comments and had a hearing on steel in May, where hundreds of interested parties submitted comments and provided testimony. Since then there has been intense internal administration debate over the implications of a broad tariff on U.S. trade relations and U.S. downstream manufacturing. Several countries have come forward asking to be removed from consideration and the European Union has threatened swift retaliation if it is hit with tariffs. In addition, many downstream industries believe that they would be severely adversely affected by import restrictions and have made their views known.
The timing of next steps is unclear at this time. We expect that there will be strong pushback from U.S. steel producers, particularly in light of their continuing arguments that the future of the industry is dire without relief. Both legal and practical problems could arise the longer a decision is delayed. Whether the steel relief is dead or simply encountering a temporary pause should become clearer over the next few weeks, as U.S. producers and U.S. buyers of steel plan their businesses going forward.