After decades of successive U.S. administrations (mostly) pursuing free trade policies, in just a few years Donald Trump has upset the apple cart with the help of sweeping presidential powers over tariffs on foreign goods. This has naturally prompted many observers to question the wisdom of leaving hundreds of billions of dollars of commerce subject to the whim of the executive branch. On that note, in a new op-ed for The National Interest Anthony DiMauro explodes the flimsy rationale behind some of the most egregious Trump tariffs (admittedly not a very challenging task) and points out a way to prevent the White House from unilaterally interfering with trade again: fix Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act.
- Under Section 232, any U.S. government agency can “investigate” imports on national security grounds — but it never defines what constitutes a national security threat.
- Trump has used this extremely vague authority to slap tariffs on things like steel imports, on the grounds that the U.S. military uses steel and therefore the domestic steel industry requires protection.
- This is a fresh load of nonsense, however, as DiMauro points out that the U.S. military requires less than three million tons of steel a year — a small fraction of America’s production of around 80 million tons.
- The solution? Some legislative oversight and consultation would be nice. On that note Senator Toomey (R, Pennsylvania) is proposing a bill mandating that “Congressional approval to absolutely be required to institute the tariffs recommended under Section 232.”
- Key details: “Toomey’s legislation incorporates a much-needed, stringent definition of ‘national security’ into the statute while setting a requirement that the Department of Defense is to conduct future Section 232 investigations incorporating this definition—a significant improvement on the current Department of Commerce’s case-by-case determinations.”
- DiMauro’s full op-ed is available here.