WASHINGTON — Paul D. Ryan, the Republican House speaker, criticized President Donald Trump’s proposed steel and aluminum tariffs Monday, saying they could lead to a damaging trade war.
“We are extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war and are urging the White House to not advance with this plan,” a spokeswoman for Ryan said in a statement. “The new tax reform law has boosted the economy, and we certainly don’t want to jeopardize those gains.”
The statement was a dramatic departure for Ryan, a top leader in Trump’s own party, who worked in lockstep with the president to pass a $1.5 trillion tax cut last year. While other Republican lawmakers have come out against the president’s trade action, this was Ryan’s first public comment since Trump announced last week that he would impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum.
Trump has shown no sign that he plans to retreat from the trade action. On Monday, he used the tariffs to threaten two of the United States’ closest trading partners, saying in a tweet that the tariffs would only “come off” of Canada and Mexico if a new and “fair” multilateral trade pact was signed.
We have large trade deficits with Mexico and Canada. NAFTA, which is under renegotiation right now, has been a bad deal for U.S.A. Massive relocation of companies & jobs. Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum will only come off if new & fair NAFTA agreement is signed. Also, Canada must..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 5, 2018
...treat our farmers much better. Highly restrictive. Mexico must do much more on stopping drugs from pouring into the U.S. They have not done what needs to be done. Millions of people addicted and dying.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 5, 2018
The statement continued Trump’s running Twitter defense of the tariffs, which he has positioned as necessary to help the United States protect itself against foreign competitors. But his administration continues to sow confusion over the breadth, scope and legality of the tariffs on steel and aluminum that Trump announced last Thursday. The White House has said those tariffs would apply to imports from all countries, with no exemptions.
Trump’s tweet came as the United States, Mexico and Canada are wrapping up the seventh round of talks over the North American Free Trade Agreement in Mexico City. Negotiators have continued to clash over provisions in the pact, including rules for auto manufacturing, and the United States has continued to insist on changes that its trading partners say are nonstarters.
Opening up exceptions for countries like Canada and Mexico for other factors like NAFTA could also invite more challenges at the World Trade Organization, said Jennifer Hillman, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. That body requires that members treat all other members equally when it comes to trade. “Unequivocally, I think there will be cases filed at the WTO, and there is plenty of ground to challenge this,” Hillman said.
On Sunday, two of the president’s top trade advisers defended the tariff plan, but left room for the president to change his mind. Peter Navarro, the head of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, said the tariff announcement could come this week or the following week at the latest. Wilbur Ross, the secretary of commerce, acknowledged that the president could change his mind, while adding that he had no reason to do so.
The president’s announcement was cheered by steel and aluminum companies, but rattled stock markets, allies and industries that purchase metal to make their products, who could see their prices rise as a result. The European Union, Canada and other countries have already threatened retaliation on U.S. products and cases against the United States at the WTO. Trump has threatened additional retaliation in response, saying in a tweet over the weekend that the United States would make it harder for the European Union to sell cars here if it erects trade barriers on U.S. imports.