WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump reacted combatively on Friday to widespread criticism of his plan to impose tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum to protect domestic producers.
“When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win,” he said on Twitter.
“Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore-we win big. It’s easy!” he added.
The president’s announcement Thursday that he will order tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively, on imported steel and aluminum, spurred a 420-point drop on the New York Stock Exchange and expressions of alarm.
Some of the sharpest criticism of the planned tariffs came from Trump’s fellow Republicans, most of them ardent free-traders.
“Kooky 18th century protectionism will jack up prices on American families – and will prompt retaliation from other countries,” Sen. Ben Sasse said in a statement.
“Make no mistake: If the President goes through with this, it will kill American jobs – that’s what every trade war ultimately does,” the Nebraska Republican said.
The top Republican in Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan, said that US workers and firms could suffer from “unintended consequences” if the tariffs were imposed, while European Commission chairman Jean-Claude Juncker was one of several international leaders threatening retaliation for the levies.
Roberto Azevedo, the director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), broke with his usual practice by commenting publicly on Trump’s announcement.
“The WTO is clearly concerned at the announcement of US plans for tariffs on steel and aluminum. The potential for escalation is real, as we have seen from the initial responses of others. A trade war is in no one’s interests,” Azevedo said.
Asked Friday about the negative reception to Trump’s tariff idea, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said that the president was not concerned and that he remained “pretty committed to moving this forward.
Paradoxically, Trump’s proposal got a much warmer response from some Democrats, such as Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who described the tariffs as “long overdue” action to aid steelworkers in his state.
Trump also won plaudits from the country’s largest labor federation.
“For years, we have called attention to the predatory practices of some steel exporting countries,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said. “This is a great first step toward addressing trade cheating.”
The president’s decision was not unanimously popular within his own administration.
Gary D. Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, “threatened to resign if the White House followed through with stiff and sweeping tariffs, according to people who have spoken with him in recent days,” The New York Times reported.