United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard called the Trump administration's delay over whether to levy additional tariffs on steel imports “devastating” as the industry bears the brunt of an increase in foreign products.
Gerard, head of the nation’s largest industrial union, said Wednesday that President Trump must act now to protect the domestic steel industry.
"Trading partners have targeted the U.S. market for fear that the United States will finally stand up for its producers and workers and protect our national security,” Gerard said in a statement.
“Postponing relief is equivalent to unilateral disarmament.”
Gerard said that Trump raised workers’ hopes during the campaign in promising to bolster the industry.
Since Trump announced in April that the Commerce Department would assess whether steel imports were creating national security issues, foreign products have increased 18 percent, Gerard said.
On Tuesday, Trump told The Wall Street Journal that a decision about a crackdown on imported steel for national security reasons is in a holding pattern and that “we don’t want to do it at this moment.”
The Commerce Department had planned to produce a report by the end of June, but the investigation has been hampered by the complexity of the issue on top of opposition from business groups, trading partners and infighting within the White House over how to proceed.
“You can’t just walk in and say I’m going to do this," Trump told the Journal. "You have to do statutory studies. … It doesn’t go that quickly.”
Section 232 of U.S. trade law gives the president wide latitude to impose higher tariffs on foreign steel if he determines that imports are undermining national security.
In the past two weeks, Trump has suggested he may slap both tariffs and quotas on countries he thinks are endangering the nation’s security as part of his campaign promise to better protect domestic steel producers.
Opponents warn that any new tariffs on imported steel would damage the U.S. economy and threaten trading relationships with key allies.
Trump said a final decision on a steel will probably remain in a holding pattern until work on other major initiatives such as tax, healthcare and infrastructure reform are moving forward.
The president didn’t say when a decision would be made on how to proceed.
But Gerard urged Trump to make a decision right away for the better of the U.S. industry.
"Trading relationships in the steel sector are complex," Gerard said.
"But enough time, attention and investigation have passed to know what needs to be done," he said.
"Steel, the foundation of our national security, is crumbling under the onslaught of foreign imports."