On the eve of President Trump’s decision to grant another temporary reprieve for allies facing steel and aluminum tariffs, a Georgia congressional backer suggested he use a “surgical” approach that would minimize unintended consequences while correcting trade imbalances.
U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, a Republican who won a heated special election in Georgia’s sixth congressional district by walking a fine line on support for Mr. Trump, praised the president as a shrewd negotiator but said the White House should be careful to not to harm American producers indirectly.
“I believe that it is imperative that we are targeted and surgical when it comes to instituting tariffs so that we are going after the bad actors and not inadvertently doing anything that’s going to somehow undermine the positive economic factors that we’ve seen since January with the tax cuts bill,” Ms. Handel said while visiting a Roswell-based manufacturer.
Her comments echoed similar statements by Sen. Johnny Isakson, another Georgia Republican, ahead of Mr. Trump’s decision in March to impose blanket steel and aluminum tariffs of 25 and 10 percent, respectively, on national security grounds.
Facing a Tuesday, May 1, deadline to extend exemptions, the president granted another 30-day reprieve for the European Union along with NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico.
Since the U.S. had already reached “agreements in principle” with the governments of Argentina, Australia and Brazil, their exemptions (on imports of both metals) were extended indefinitely while the details are worked out.
In a statement, the White House said its focus would be on negotiating suitable quotas as in the case of imports of steel from South Korea, the only country to have won a permanent exemption so far.
Ms. Handel volunteered her remarks on trade policy during an export award ceremony for Hope Industrial Systems, which makes monitors for factory production lines.
The company uses imported steel in its flat-panel frames and gets about 20 percent of overall sales from exports, largely in the United Kingdom and other European markets. The EU has threatened retaliation against American products in the absence of a deal to avoid tariffs.
Speaking before Mr. Trump’s statement late Tuesday, Ms. Handel told Hope employees that she hoped to see the exemptions extended past May and that she was part of a contingent in Congress urging a measured approach to trade remedies.
“Know that in Congress we are very, very mindful of how all these things come together and are intertwined,” she said after promoting the benefits of this year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act for local families.
During a quick interview with Global Atlanta, Ms. Handel said the NAFTA renegotiations provide a good model for addressing trade imbalances in a targeted way.
“No one wants to go in and eliminate the whole thing, but let’s go in and modernize what needs to be modernized and get to as much of a level playing field as we possibly can. That’s good for American workers and families,” she said. Mr. Trump has threatened to withdraw from NAFTA if talks don’t result in what he deems a “good deal.”
Ms. Handel didn’t comment directly on whether she believed multilateral agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership should be brought back to the table. Mr. Trump, who pulled the U.S. out of the 12-country pact early in his term, has vacillated on whether the U.S. should rejoin.
Ms. Handel did express optimism that a “softening” in a potential trade war with China could be in the offing. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and new National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow are joining Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in China this week for talks aimed at persuading China to change “unfair” trade practices the White House says have contributed to an annual trade deficit that hit $337 billion last year.
Mr. Trump has threatened tariffs on $150 billion in Chinese goods, while China has threatened retaliatory measures on $60 billion in American products, including food products and high-value items like Boeing planes. The tit-for-tat remarks have sparked fears of a broader trade war that could dampen global growth.