Trump administration launches national security investigation into steel imports

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration Thursday directed the Commerce Department to expedite an investigation into whether the way other countries sell steel compromises U.S. national security.

In a briefing Thursday morning, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the review would consider how much steel the U.S. needs to defend itself, and whether current domestic capacity meets those requirements. Steel imports now make up more than 26 percent of the entire U.S. marketplace, and the report will examine to what extent those imports impinge on U.S. economic and national defense security, Ross said.

That investigation officially began Wednesday night, and Trump was to sign the memorandum to expedite the investigation at a ceremony Thursday.

The investigation could result in a recommendation that United States impose broad tariffs on the steel industry, Ross said. “The important question is protecting our defense needs. And we will do whatever is necessary to do that, but we’ve come to no conclusion yet, because the study is just recently begun.”

The investigation, which was self-initiated by the Commerce Department, rather than the steel industry itself, revives a section of a little-used trade law, the 1962 Trade Expansion Act. Section 232 of the law allows the government to impose a wide variety of barriers on steel imports for national security reasons. It does not focus on a particular country, but analysts say the order is likely to be wielded against China, which has about half of the world’s steel capacity and has flooded the global market with cheap steel in recent years.

Thursday’s executive order showed the administration pushing ahead with promises to use existing trade laws to crack down more heavily on what it considers unfair trading practices, coming a week after President Donald Trump appeared to walk back some of the most prominent economic promises of his campaign.

Trump last week declined to label China a currency manipulator, despite campaign promises to do so, and expressed support for the Export-Import Bank, after previously criticizing the credit agency.