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Donald Trump picks on India again while announcing new steel, aluminium tariffs

Trump cited India, a comparatively minor exporter of steel to the US that is not troubled much by the controversial tariff, as a country that might also attract “reciprocal taxes.”

world Updated: Mar 09, 2018 11:19 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US tariffs,Trump tariffs,Steel traiffs
US President Donald Trump signs a presidential proclamation placing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports while surrounded by workers from the steel and aluminum industries at the White House in Washington.(REUTERS)

US president Donald Trump on Thursday ignored warnings of a global trade war and announced new tariffs on steel and aluminium imports along expected lines but with what is fast becoming a customary swipe at India and China in nearly the same breath at major policy pronouncements.

Trump cited India, a comparatively minor exporter of steel to the US that is not troubled much by the controversial tariff, as a country that might also attract “reciprocal taxes” because of the unfair “75% … 50%” duty on a product that gets taxed at “nothing” in the US — motorcycles

READ MORE: China, Japan, South Korea bristle over US steel, aluminium tariffs

China, which gets bashed around more at such events, did get more of it but found itself mentioned at the same time with India on tax rate differentials on cars. China taxes American cars at the rate of 25% compared to the US levy of 2.5% — “10 times”, he repeated several times for emphasis.

“We are going to do a reciprocal tax programme at some time,” the president said moving to a related but different issue towards the end of his speech.

“So that if China is going to charge us 25% or if India is going to charge us 75% and we charge them nothing. If they are at 50, or they are at 75 or they are at 25, we are going be at the same number. It’s called a reciprocal tax, mirror tax. So they charge us 50 we charge them 50 ... We are going to be doing a lot of that,” he added.

Trump similarly attacked the two countries while announcing the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate accord last May. He accused India of demanding “billions and billions of dollars” for it participation and China of negotiating a delayed deadline.

At recent meetings with business leaders and governors, the president has slammed India repeatedly over the import duty on Harley-Davidson motorcycles — on completely built units, and not those assembled locally — with snatches from his last phone call with Prime Minister Narendra Modi thrown in.

The new tariffs of 25% for steel and 10% for aluminum imports will kick in after 15 days but Canada and Mexico, the two top steel suppliers of the US, will be exempted as the three North American nations re-negotiate the long-standing trade pact North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA.

For the rest of the world, the levies will apply “across the board” but, once again, a senior administration official said, the US will be making exceptions for allies with whom it has security pacts or for countries that are able to individually negotiate with America, and convince it.

That may include every major supplier, critics have contended, arguing the tariffs will really not hurt any country in the end, but will give the president the opportunity to tell his supporters he delivered on yet another campaign promise.

The announcement of the tariffs followed days of back and forth between supporters and opponents, chiefly the president’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn, who failed and is leaving. Trump also faced opposition from Republican party leaders.

The move has raised fears of a trade war. The European Union has already threatened to retaliate with a package of tariffs of hikes on Bourbon, Harley-Davidson and blue jeans, popular produce of the home-states of Republican party leaders.

“President Trump’s decision to impose steep tariffs on steel & aluminum imports will not protect America. They will harm the American economy, hurt American workers & damage relations with America’s allies & partners,” senior Republican John McCain, a Trump critic, said in a statement.

First Published: Mar 09, 2018 10:55 IST