The White House raised the possibility that impending hefty US tariffs on steel and aluminum imports could exclude a clutch of countries other than Canada and Mexico.
US President Donald Trump is expected to sign a presidential proclamation establishing the tariffs during a ceremony scheduled for 3:30 p.m. (2030 GMT) on Thursday, Reuters reports, citing a source familiar with the situation.
A senior US official said the measures would take effect about two weeks after Trump signs the proclamation.
The tariffs would impose a duty of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum to counter cheap imports, especially from China, that Trump says undermine US industry and jobs.
It was not immediately clear whether the proclamation would list countries to be exempted as pressure grew for Trump to exclude US allies from the action.
“We expect that the president will sign something by the end of the week and there are potential carve-outs for Mexico and Canada based on national security, and possibly other countries as well based on that process,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told a regular media briefing. “It will be country by country, and it will be based on national security.”
Trump said on Monday that Canada and Mexico would only be excluded after the successful renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index ended slightly lower after a volatile session after Trump promised the tariffs but then said Mexico and Canada could be exempt. The S&P closed 0.05 percent lower after being down 0.4 percent, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended down 0.33 percent.
The US dollar pared gains to end little changed, while the Canadian dollar and Mexican peso pared some losses.
The departure of Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, who was seen as a bulwark against Trump’s economic nationalism, clears the way for greater influence by trade hardliners such as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade policy adviser, and the possibility that the tariffs will be implemented.
Sanders said Trump was considering several candidates to fill Cohn’s position, while Navarro said he was not shortlisted for the job.
In his first tweet on Wednesday, Trump showed no sign of backing down, saying the United States had lost more than 55,000 factories and 6 million manufacturing jobs and let its trade deficit soar since the administration of President George H.W. Bush.
The Commerce Department said on Wednesday the trade deficit jumped 5.0 percent to US$56.6 billion in January. That was the highest level since October 2008 and exceeded economists’ expectations of an increase to US$55.1 billion. Part of the rise in the trade gap in January reflected higher commodity prices.
The politically sensitive goods trade deficit with China surged 16.7 percent to US$36.0 billion, the highest since September 2015.
The deficit with Canada soared 65 percent to a three-year high of US$3.6 billion. China and Canada are the United States’ top trading partners.
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