President Bush is slapping hefty temporary tariffs on certain types of imported steel. Mr. Bush's effort to help the ailing U.S. steel industry came under sharp criticism abroad.
President Bush says he remains committed to free trade. But he says he will take action under U.S. law to make sure America's industries and workers compete on a level playing field. "We are a free trading nation and in order to remain a free trading nation we must enforce law. And that is exactly what I did," he says.
His administration spent months looking for a way to help U.S. steel makers cope with an influx of cheap foreign products. The result is a compromise less than the domestic industry asked for, but enough to send a strong message overseas.
The president is imposing tariffs of eight to thirty percent for three years on various types of steel. Among the steel exporters hardest hit are Japan, China, South Korea, Brazil, Russia and Ukraine.
Steel from Mexico, Canada, Jordan and Israel is exempt because they have free trade agreements with the United States. So too is steel from developing countries that are minor exporters, such as Thailand. "I honored our NAFTA agreement by exempting Canada and Mexico. Also we will honor agreements with developing nations. This is a remedy allowed under the WTO," says Mr. Bush. "It is also part of our law and I intend to enforce our laws."
But many of America's trading partners are furious. The European Union has already announced plans to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization. U.S. Special Trade Representative Robert Zoellick will present the Bush administration's case before the WTO. "The international trade rules of the World Trade Organization recognize that sometimes imports, whether fairly or unfairly traded, can cause such harm to domestic industries that temporary restraints are warranted," says Mr. Zoellick.
Mr. Zoellick says the tariff plan is flexible, and President Bush can change it if the financial crisis in domestic steel improves or worsens over time. He says this temporary solution should enable the American steel industry to survive. "The president has listened to the frustrations and anxieties of steelworkers and their families. He is offering help," he says. "Now, it is the responsibility of the steel industry, owners, management, workers and communities to use this breathing space to construct a new future."
The tariff plan goes into effect on March 20.