Donald Trump’s proposed hike in steel tariffs will have a “significant impact” on the UK, the industry trade body warned.
The US president has set out plans for steel imports to face a increased 25% tariff and aluminium 10%, although White House officials later were later forced to backtrack, saying some details still needed to be ironed out.
“At the minute we don’t know exactly how these tariffs will be implemented, so we’ll have to wait until the official announcement next week,” he said.
“But the assumption, from what he said, is that it would be a blanket tariff of 25% on all steel products.
“This really does throw a spanner in the works.”
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said: “We will not sit idly while our industry is hit with unfair measures that put thousands of European jobs at risk.
“I had the occasion to say that the EU would react adequately and that’s what we will do.
“The EU will react firmly and commensurately to defend our interests. The Commission will bring forward in the next few days a proposal for WTO-compatible counter-measures against the US to rebalance the situation.”
A Downing Street spokesman said: “We don’t yet know if the UK will be included in any tariffs. We are working across government to get to the bottom of this.”
The spokesman added: “We are engaging with the US on what this announcement means in practice. We are particularly concerned by any measures which would impact the UK steel and aluminium industries.
“Over-capacity remains a significant global issue and we believe multi-lateral action is the only way to resolve it in all parties’ interests.
“The US Is our biggest trade partner. We will remain close partners and continue to work at the highest levels to make the case for UK industry to the US government.”
Trump said the duties of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium would be formally announced next week.
It’s not just Europe and the UK that has voiced concerns over the move - Australia’s trade minister said on Friday it will distort global trade and cost jobs. He also highlighted the risk of retaliatory measures as Asian exporters sought more detail on the plans.
“The imposition of a tariff like this will do nothing other than distort trade and ultimately, we believe, will lead to a loss of jobs,” Australian trade minister Steven Ciobo told reporters in Sydney.
“My concern remains that on the back of actions like this we could see retaliatory measures that are put in place by other major economies. That is in no-one’s interest.”
Australia, which has championed the free-trade Trans Pacific Partnership that Trump pulled the United States out of, has sought an exemption for its steel and aluminum to the United States, Ciobo added.
Steel has become key focus for Trump, who pledged to restore the US industry and punish what he sees as unfair trade practices, particularly by China.
Although China only accounts for 2% of US steel imports, its massive industry expansion has helped produce a global glut of steel that has driven down prices.
“The impact on China is not big,” said Li Xinchuang, vice secretary-general of the China Iron and Steel Association. “Nothing can be done about Trump. We are already numb to him.”
Asian steelmakers fear US tariffs could result in their domestic markets becoming flooded with steel products that have nowhere else to go.
“We are concerned about how other exporters react, what will happen with steel that cannot be sold to the US,” Vikrom Wacharakrup, Chairman of Iron and Steel Industry Group, Federation of Thai Industries, told Reuters. Thailand exports steel mainly to Asia but also the United States.
The Trump administration also cited national security interests for its action, saying the United States needs domestic supplies for its tanks and warships.
Contrary to the action announced by Trump on Thursday, the Department of Defense had recommended targeted steel tariffs and a delay in aluminum duties.
“We continue to seek clarification,” said Japanese Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko. “I don’t think exports of steel and aluminum from Japan, which is a US ally, damages US national security in any way, and we would like to explain that to the US”
India also raised concerns about the use of the national security interests provisions.
“We have only 2 percent of our exports to US so no immediate dent, but validity of Section 232 is stretched to be used as tariff barrier,” India’s Steel Secretary Aruna Sharma told Reuters.
Trump believes the tariffs will safeguard American jobs but many economists say the impact of price increases for consumers of steel and aluminum, such as the auto and oil industries, will be to destroy more jobs than they create.
Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp said the tariffs would substantially raise costs and therefore prices of cars and trucks sold in America.
News of the tariffs hit sentiment on Wall Street due to the potential impact of higher costs on consumers and the potential for damaging tit-for-tat retaliation by affected countries.
Asian steelmakers suffered with shares in South Korea’s POSCO and Japan’s Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp down more than 3 percent.