Consider how easy it was for Mr. Trump to get a 25 percent tariff on steel imports. His administration simply concocted a fanciful national-security narrative about why the steel industry needed protection from foreign steel imports — this despite the industry’s enjoying a 70 percent share of the United States steel market and despite the Department of Defense finding no national-security harm from global steel imports.
.. For example, for the projected impact of the steel tariffs, numbers produced by the Commerce Department show that they may increase employment in the metals industry by 14,000 jobs. But the report also says that a significantly larger number of jobs will be destroyed, as a result of these tariffs, in industries downstream from metal production.
.. Under the current system, if Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross decides to protect his friends and business interests in the steel industry, he can ignore the damage that his own data show the tariffs will inflict on some of the 6.5 million workers in America’s steel-consuming industries. His sole lawful obligation is to demonstrate that the economic fortunes of the 140,000 steel employees will be promoted by the tariffs.
.. when I.T.C. commissioners make their determinations in such cases, they’re actually forbidden by statute from considering the impact of these so-called trade remedies on downstream industries — those consumers of goods and services hit by the tariffs.
.. The good news is that there’s an easy fix: Change the statutes so that commissioners are required to consider the effects of trade restrictions on downstream industries and consumers.
.. Today, steel executives have an iron grip on the White House thanks to the deep ties of the president’s advisers to the industry.
- Mr. Ross made his fortune buying and selling steel companies and was sitting on a steel company’s board until his confirmation as commerce secretary.
- Robert Lighthizer, a private lawyer who represented the steel industry for years, is now the United States trade representative.
- The upper levels of both the Office of the United States Trade Representative and the Commerce Department have predictably been populated by other individuals with close ties to Big Steel. And the
- trade adviser Peter Navarro’s 2012 documentary, “Death by China,” was funded by one of the top beneficiaries of these tariffs — the steel producer Nucor.
This cronyism explains how the steel industry is directly involved in deciding which companies do or don’t receive exemptions from the steel tariffs and why so few exemptions have been granted.