Today, the President signed a Presidential Memorandum prioritizing an investigation initiated by the Secretary of Commerce into whether steel imports threaten to impair the national security. Under this provision, the commission could block carbon and alloy steel produced in China from entering the U.S.
"From now on, we're going to stand up for American jobs, workers, their security and for American steel companies", he said, signing a memo formalizing the investigation alongside USA steelmakers. "This is not an area where we can afford to become dependent on foreign countries", Trump said.
Commerce and White House officials made a decision to look into a possible action after growing concerns about China's actions to influence the steel market.
Despite China's pledge to reduce the country's annual steel capacity by as much as 150 million tons before 2020, the country remains the world's largest steel producer and accounts for nearly half of the globe's total steel production. Trump's directive will ask Ross to conduct it "with all deliberate speed and deliver the results to the president with his recommendations", a second official said.
He said in a press conference that steel imports "have continued to rise, and they've continued to rise despite repeated Chinese claims that they were going to reduce their steel capacity when instead they have actually been increasing it consistently".
Ross said the U.S. had placed more than 150 antidumping and duty orders on steel products, but they had "not substantially alleviated the negative effects that unfairly traded imports have had on the United States steel industry".
The president made bold and often inflammatory promises about trade policy on the campaign trail, pledging to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and impose tariffs of 45 percent on imports from China and 35 percent on USA companies that moved manufacturing facilities to Mexico. Nucor's shares were up 3.4% in midday trading, while shares for U.S. Steel and AK Steel Holding Corp. were up more than 7%. "You need competitive steel prices for those industries to be competitive and to export".
The commerce secretary, speaking to CNBC after a White House meeting with steel industry executives, called China, Japan and the European Union far more "protectionist" on these policies than the U.S. "So we're groping here to see whether the facts warrant a more comprehensive solution that would deal with a very wide range of steel products and a very wide range of steel products".
The Defense Department's annual steel requirements comprise less than 0.3 percent of the industry's output by weight.
Now Ross, who as an investor played a role in Cleveland steelmaking when he restructured LTV Steel and later sold its assets to ArcelorMittal, said he will determine whether there is a defense case to be made. "It may take an extraordinary measure, like Section 232, to make some progress and to prod China along as well", Paul said.
"Talking about it as a national security issue - I don't think it's necessary and I don't think it's justified", he said.
Since then the US has launched only two such investigations, and in each the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security declined to recommend action.
Use of Section 232 could send another political message.