More than a year and a half has elapsed since President Donald Trump, leveraging Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, imposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum of 25% and 10%, respectively.
Trump applied the tariffs using the Section 232 statute’s national security grounds language as justification. The power to adjust import levels via Section 232, while not used frequently since the passage of the 1962 legislation, falls under the authority of the president.
With that said, some members of Congress have proposed legislation that seeks to curtail the office of the president’s Section 232 authorities.
Last year, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation calling for congressional approval of tariffs introduced via Section 232. The bill requires the president to submit a proposal to Congress if the presidents seeks to adjust import levels. After submission of the proposal, Congress would deliberate over a 60-day period.
Earlier this year, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania sponsored the Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act of 2019; the bill was read twice and referred to the Senate Finance Committee on Jan. 31.
Within the metals world itself, one industry group suggests the Section 232 tariffs should come with a sunset clause.
In a letter addressed to Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Ron Wyden, ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, the Coalition of American Metal Manufacturers and Users (CAMMU) called for a “robust debate” regarding the continuation of the Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs.
“On behalf of the members of the Coalition of American Metal Manufacturers and Users (CAMMU) and the undersigned trade associations representing industries affected by the 232 steel and aluminum tariffs, we are writing to urge you to include a sunset provision for current 232 national security tariffs in any comprehensive 232 tariff reform legislation considered by the Committee,” CAMMU wrote in the letter.
CAMMU argued the tariffs have negatively impacted the U.S. economy.
“After 18 months of the Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs, it is clear that these tariffs are contributing to a weakening of the U.S. economy, particularly in the manufacturing sector,” the letter continued. “This is starkly reflected by the Institute for Supply Management’s key manufacturing index which fell to 47.8% in September 2019, the lowest reading since 2009. Price fluctuation, delivery delays and uncertainty caused by the tariffs are contributing factors to a slowdown in the manufacturing sector.”
Members of CAMMU include: American Institute for International Steel, Associated Builders and Contractors, Industrial Fasteners Institute, the Hands‐On Science Partnership, the National Tooling & Machining Association, North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers, the Precision Machined Products Association, and the Precision Metalforming Association.
“We appreciate the desire for bipartisan, compromise legislation that has a chance of seeing Senate floor action this Congress,” CAMMU stated. “However, 232 reform legislation that does not allow for a robust congressional debate and decision on the current steel and aluminum tariffs would allow these tariffs that are causing actual harm to U.S. manufacturers to continue with no competent exclusion process in place and no future relief in sight. We urge you to include a sunsetting provision that addresses current 232 tariffs in the mark that goes before the Senate Finance Committee to allow for a debate on these harmful tariffs and to ensure all stakeholders have a voice in the process.”