The Trump administration downplayed the impact of the president’s planned steel and aluminum tariffs on American consumers Sunday, saying they amount to “a fraction of a penny on a can of beer.”
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he wasn’t worried about other countries imposing their own tariffs in response. “Retaliation isn’t going to change the price of a can of beer. It isn’t going to change the price of a car. It’s just not going to. It can’t,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press.
In an administration often divided on economic issues between globalist free traders and a more “America First” protectionist wing, it was the nationalists who took center stage on Sunday morning television to defend the actions, which came in a surprise announcement from Trump last week.
Trump met with steel and aluminum companies last week, and appeared to catch even some members of his own administration by surprise when he said he would institute tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum.
“It wasn’t sudden,” Ross said. He noted that Trump campaigned on the issue and ordered the Commerce Department to study the issue almost a year ago. “So with a whole year of preparation, I don’t know why anybody should’ve been so shocked.”
But the markets were shocked, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 420 points Thursday, followed by another 391 points Friday after Trump raised the prospect of a trade war on Twitter. The Dow almost recovered, up 320 points from its Friday bottom.
One of the unanswered questions is whether the trade proclamation Trump will sign this week will contain exclusions for specific countries — especially allies, because Trump is using a law that allows tariffs on national security grounds.
But Peter Navarro, the president’s trade adviser, told Fox News Sunday and CBS’s Face the Nation that there will not be exclusions for specific allies.
“This is not a China problem,” said Navarro, an economist who has authored books with titles like Death by China and The Coming China Wars. “What happens is that when they overproduce, it puts pressure on the whole markets. But it’s not a China problem.”
Navarro suggested there could be carve outs for specific steel products that aren’t made in the United States. But he said the impact on consumers would be “negligible to nothing.”
The tariffs continued to stoke fears of trade wars among U.S. allies. The European Union announced retaliatory actions Friday against American-made motorcycles, jeans and bourbon. And on Sunday, Trump spoke by phoneto British Prime Minister Theresa May, who raised “deep concern” about the tariffs, according to the U.K. government.
Trump himself joked about the tariffs Saturday night in a comedic speech to the Gridiron Club, an exclusive group of Washington journalists.
“Ever since we announced our new tariffs, which actually is very popular with people because they’re tired of getting ripped off, many dying American industries have come to the White House asking for protection,” he said. “Unfortunately, I’m sorry, I fear it may be too late for the print media.”