Trump aides defend tariffs move as Europe and China decry ‘trade war’

Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross listens to Donald Trump speak.

White House officials fanned out on Sunday to support Donald Trump’s planned imposition of tariffs on aluminium and steel imports, describing it as a national security issue.

Amid international consternation, and with British prime minister Theresa May expressing “deep concern”, critics said the move was a needless provocation of allies and enemies alike.

One Democratic senator said targeting China could damage attempts to reduce tensions with nuclear-armed North Korea. A senior Chinese official said the tariffs could “damage bilateral relations and bring about consequences that neither country wants to see”.

Peter Navarro, director of the White House National Trade Council, confirmed that China was the focus of Trump’s surprise decision, announced at the White House this week.

“China is at the root of the problem,” Navarro told CNN’s Face the Nation. “China has tremendous overcapacity in both aluminium and steel. They flood the world market and this whittles down to our shores.”

Trump’s announcement triggered deep divisions in his own economic team. It was also condemned by World Trade Organisation (WTO) and US allies including Canada and South Korea, which between them account for a quarter of US steel imports. China accounts for just 2%.

Navarro insisted Trump’s decision, which could be brought into effect as soon as next week, was “quintessential and great”.

It was “unlikely” the administration would agree any exemptions, he said, adding: “This is an action to protect our national, economic security. We can’t have a country that can defend itself and prosper without an aluminium and steel industry.”

Navarro denied that Trump was considering withdrawing from the WTO although he said the body was “a lot of the problem” and needed to change with the times. The White House, he said, was focused on trading conditions that had been unfairly skewed for decades. Pointing the finger directly at China, he said Trump had sent a strong signal.

“We’re not going to take it anymore,”…

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