Trump Ups the Ante on Trade

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The Trump administration is making belligerent noises on trade, but its actions so far have been relatively restrained.

  • Facts


    • On Friday, Donald Trump signed two executive orders on trade, signaling a “new era in trade policy.”
    • The Trump administration blames the United States’ $502 billion trade deficit on unfair trade agreements.
    • So far, changes to American trade policy have been relatively restrained, which observers put down to deep divisions within the new administration.
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Salzgitter AG
Sparks are flying among foreign steelmakers over accusations by President Trump over alleged price dumping. Source: Julian Stratenschulte / DPA

Donald Trump’s media event on Friday to announce his “new era in trade policy” began like much else in his administration – with a blunder.

The U.S. president invited the Washington press corps to the Oval Office to witness the signing of two executive orders on trade intended to begin putting “America First” policies into action. “Thousands of factories have been stolen from our country,” Mr. Trump growled, adding that from now on “the well-being of America and the American worker is my north star.”

But the president lost his nerve when journalists began asking him about investigations into his campaign’s Russian ties. Flustered, Mr. Trump stormed out of the room, forgetting to sign the executive orders.

The error was quickly rectified: The orders mandating the government to investigate economic relations with America’s most important trading partners were signed in private.

Mr. Trump wants to know the reasons for America’s enormous trade deficit and has ordered the U.S. Department of Commerce to search for an empirical basis to justify a sharp increase in tariffs. The steel sector, in particular, is under heavy scrutiny. The Trump administration has accused several foreign steelmakers, including Germany’s Salzgitter and Dillinger Hütte, of price dumping.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has threatened these and other foreign firms about engaging in unfair practices. “Our steel industry today is under assault from foreign producers that dump and subsidize their exports,” he said. “We will ensure U.S. businesses and workers are treated fairly.”

The U.S. government, he said, will make a final decision on possible dumping duties by the middle of May.

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