Steel exec at center of tariff fight predicts Trump will negotiate import quotas with allies

An American steel industry executive at the center of the trade war with China says he's confident President Trump will ultimately negotiate import quotas with U.S. allies stung by the recent imposition of a 25 percent tariff on foreign steel.

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Todd Leebow, CEO of Majestic Steel in Ohio, cheered the tariffs as a good opening salvo to protect American steel companies hurt by years of China dumping cheap steel in the U.S. market.

But he told The Hill that after meeting with Trump administration officials this week he expects negotiations that will ultimately result in import quotas on allies and possibly create a coalition to pressure China on its trade practices.

“From our conversations, the initial announcement of 25 percent is a broad solution,” he said. “The 25 percent tariff is getting these countries to the table to negotiate."

“I think that 25 percent could potentially just impact the pricing, and imports can still come in at levels that they were. I think that quotas and other strategies for those countries that are exempt is going to be integral in that process,” he added. “We’re early on in this process, and I think the administration has a plan in terms of how they want to approach this for the long term.”

Leebow, who at age 33 is one of the industry's youngest and most vocal executives, cited the ongoing negotiations with South Korea aimed at setting import quotas as a potential model for other allies.

“The negotiation with South Korea has already been ongoing and there’s an idea of how that’s going to shape up. I think that it’s going to be ongoing process. This is not a quick turnaround,” he added.

Leebow warned that the battle with China over unfair steel market practices is only the beginning of a longer struggle that will spread from raw materials to downstream industries like car manufacturing and agricultural products.

“We all know that China has a long-term plan, and they want to be the world powerhouse,” he said. “That’s not happening over night. The steel industry has felt the effects of it first, but I think from trade perspective we have to think about this long-term and downstream.”

When they were first imposed in March, Trump exempted a number of U.S. allies from the tariffs, including Canada, Mexico, the European Union, Australia, Brazil, Argentina and South Korea. Japan was not included on the list.

Those exemptions last until May 1.

Trump said he could direct his administration to impose a quota on steel imports from allies when the exemptions were first announced.