Washington - In a time of warfare, a country doesn't want to suddenly discover that it relies on far-off trading partners for the goods its people or military need. It's far better for a country to be able to produce the basic stuff of survival within its own borders. To ensure those domestic industries survive, a country may need to take action against foreign competition.
It's the argument the Trump administration is considering
about steel. It has also been
But that prospect is sparking concern among some
European officials have told US officials and business
groups that they may respond to restrictions on steel and aluminum with their
own tariffs, and that
In its public comments about the administration's investigation, US Wheat Associates, an export promotion group for the wheat industry, said it was "extremely concerned about the potential ramifications of import protections based on national security arguments," adding "the results could be devastating."
"Wheat is probably the commodity most associated with food security in the world. We're proud of that," said Ben Conner, the group's director of policy. "We just don't want that to get turned around on us."
Any investigation that leads to new tariffs on imports could spark retaliatory duties or tariffs on US products, said a spokesperson for a separate farm industry group, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of upcoming North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations. "As we've seen historically, agricultural products tend to be on the front line for retaliation."
Industries and trade experts say they are concerned that the administration, by using a justification as broad as national security, could set a precedent for other countries to follow suit.
The administration has turned to a little-used statute that gives it broad purview to impose restrictions on any imports that it deems a threat to national security. The Trump administration hasn't specified how it defines national security, but statements from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and others suggest that their definition may go beyond defence equipment to include broader security issues, like infrastructure and the industrial base.
The World Trade Organization, which typically polices
international trade actions, gives countries a lot of autonomy when it comes to
dealing with national security matters. Supporters say the Trump
administration's actions could offer relief for the domestic steel and aluminum
industries, which have struggled as a flood of overcapacity from
But others say that citing on national security as a reason for limiting trade could prove to be a dangerous precedent. "You could imagine extending this argument to almost anything, and I think that's one of the difficulties with employing it at all," said Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. "Once you open that Pandora's box, it's really an argument you can apply almost limitlessly."
Other countries have tried to protect seemingly unrelated
industries on national security grounds, sometimes with laughable results. In
Far less humorously,
Critics describe the law as a tool for
When it comes to food, countries like
Depending on the results of the Trump administration's
Foreign governments are also likely searching for the right
pressure points to persuade the Trump administration to alter their trade
policies, and they may conclude that the president's base of support among
voters in the
Bown also points out that
In 2003, the Bush administration opted to lift its 20-month-old tariffs on steel after the WTO ruled they were illegal and European countries vowed to impose sanctions on up to $2.2 billion in US exports.
The Europeans' threats included restrictions on orange juice
and other citrus exports from