President Donald Trump's administration is gearing up to deliver “amazing actions” on trade policy in the next six months, despite the recent delay in the Section 232 investigation results, according to National Trade Council director Peter Navarro.
“By the end of the next six months—by the time we get to exactly a year from inauguration—these next six months, you’re going to see just the most amazing actions on trade that have ever been done by a sitting president,” Navarro told radio host Laura Ingraham last week. “And the first six months have been a way of setting all of that up.”
The Section 232 investigation remains “on track,” he continued.
“The delay, as it were, is the Department of Commerce must finish its investigation under the 232 statute. If (Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross) comes in with a finding that national security is harmed, then the president can act, so we’re waiting for that report,” Navarro said. “The Secretary of Commerce is doing a measured, detailed job, but that’s what you have to do.”
Some steel distributors applauded the Trump administration’s cautious approach to the 232 investigation.
The Commerce Department will probably roll out its recommendations to Trump before the end of the year, according to a West Coast distributor. But it’s more important for Commerce to get its report right than to meet a particular deadline, he said.
“This is a huge undertaking. It’s not like going through the drive-through at McDonald’s. So I would rather see them get it right the first time,” he said.
The delay is understandable if Commerce is taking the time to craft a Section 232 report that helps mills without inadvertently hurting downstream steel consumers, an East Coast distributor said. Fabricators, for example, could find themselves exposed to more import competition should domestic prices spike at the same time the US market remains open to foreign fabricated parts.
But the East Coast source wondered whether the delay had been created instead by the president’s ill-advised remarks and tweets, as well as political infighting within the West Wing. “Manufacturing has not given up on this president. And as a group, they believe in the big picture: tax reform, trade policy and infrastructure spending. ... But where is any of it? It’s almost like he’s doing everything he can to get manufacturing to abandon him.”
And a bigger concern in the meantime is the looming deadline—Sept. 29—to raise the debt ceiling, said a steel buyer for a welded tube manufacturer. He said his firm relies on business from government entities, as well as on projects that hinge on government funding.
“There has been a slowdown because of uncertainty over where the money will come from. Some of these projects take years, depending on the scope and the phase (of construction). ... And they’re not going to move forward unless there is rock-solid funding in place.”
Navarro also pointed to other actions “going on below the radar,” including some of the president’s executive orders on trade enforcement earlier this year. Indeed, the steel industry applauded the pair of trade-enforcement orders, which were signed in March.
The National Trade Council director reiterated the Trump administration’s stance on China's bid for market-economy status under the World Trade Organization. The issue is “absolutely huge,” he said, noting that if China is not categorized as a non-market economy, then it will be more difficult to set duties against it at a level high enough to deter dumping.
“Over (US Trade Representative Robert) Lighthizer’s dead body will this country agree to China getting market-economy status,” he said. “This is going to be fought in the trenches at USTR. It’s very high on the priority list.”
Michael Cowden, Chicago, contributed to this report.