The presidential memorandum directs Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to prioritize an investigation into how steel produced in other countries, often with government subsidies that artificially lower prices, could harm the American steel industry, the economy and national security.
The Commerce Department will then deliver a report on the findings and make recommendations to fix the problem, which Trump promised would come “in a very, very near future.” Flanked by steel industry and labor leaders, Trump called the signing a “historic day for American steel.”
“Maintaining the production of American steel is extremely important to our national security and our defense industrial base,” Trump said in remarks before signing the memorandum on Thursday afternoon. “Steel is critical to both our economy and our military. This is not an area where we can afford to become dependent on foreign countries. We have a product where we actually need foreign countries to be nice to us in order to fight for our people. And that’s not going to happen any longer, believe me – especially as it comes to steel.”
Trump insisted when asked that the order “has nothing to do with China,” a country he criticized during the campaign as playing with an unfair economic advantage. He called the low priced steel flooding U.S. markets a “worldwide problem,” but seemed to deviate from his prepared remarks to take a shot at Canada and the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he said was devastating farming and other industries around the Great Lakes.
“Again, just to tell you, this is another NAFTA disaster, and we’re not going to let it continue onward,” Trump said.
The order strikes to the core of the message that successfully delivered Trump to the White House, a claim that the United States is losing out on jobs in industries like steel to foreign competition. One of his first actions as president was to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership, an international trade agreement that, much like NAFTA, Trump was highly critical of during the campaign.