Trump Summons Steel, Aluminum Executives for Meeting on Trade Curbs


WASHINGTON—The Trump administration has summoned steel and aluminum executives on short notice for a White House meeting on Thursday, telling them that an announcement could be made then on long-awaited curbs on steel and aluminum imports in the name of protecting national security, according to people familiar with the matter.

These people said that executives from companies in the two industries had been invited to the White House for a midday meeting with President Donald Trump, and that Mr. Trump and some of his advisers were hoping to use that event to announce broad tariffs or quotas.

Other people involved in the discussions, however, said that the new policies hadn’t been completed as of Wednesday night, and that the session could just turn into a meeting to discuss possible alternatives. The official White House schedule released shortly after 9 p.m. made no mention of a meeting or an announcement.

Heard on the Street

Thursday’s meeting between the president and the manufacturing executives comes two weeks after the Commerce Department released the results of a study launched last April looking at whether steel and aluminum imports pose a threat to American defense, by reducing U.S. capacity to make key materials for military equipment, and whether that threat could justify new import curbs under a little-used 1962 trade law

The study, conducted in consultation with other agencies, concluded that those imports undermine American military needs and laid out three options for Mr. Trump to consider for each industry: global tariffs, global quotas or a more targeted approach focused on a handful of exports seen as most responsible for hampering U.S. industry.

One person familiar with the internal deliberations said that Mr. Trump has favored imposing broad, across-the-board tariffs hitting countries around the world, though certain countries could be spared through exemptions.

But the issue has been the subject of intense infighting inside the administration, with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a longtime steel executive before joining the administration, pushing for tough protection, battling against a coalition fighting those proposals. That group urging caution has included Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council, and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

The uncertainty inside the administration Wednesday night about whether a final announcement would be ready Thursday apparently reflects that ongoing argument.

New import curbs would spark strong protests from trading partners and allies around the world, who registered objections after the Commerce reports and said they would likely retaliate if they were hit with tariffs or quotas.

One target of any measures would be China, which U.S. officials blame for flooding the world with cheap steel and aluminum due to excess capacity in its industries.

A Thursday announcement of new tariffs or quotas may be seen as particularly provocative in Beijing, as they would come the same day that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s top economic adviser plans to meet with Mr. Trump’s top economic aides to discuss mounting trade tensions between the countries.

Write to Jacob M. Schlesinger at

Appeared in the March 1, 2018, print edition as ‘Steel Import Curbs Could Come Soon.’

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