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China-US relations

US defence department backs curbs on China steel, aluminium

Defence Secretary James Mattis says the proposed import restrictions, which include Chinese metals, will not damage nation’s defence needs

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 February, 2018, 12:43pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 February, 2018, 9:46pm

The US Defence Department has voiced support for the Trump administration’s bid to impose national security restrictions on imports of steel and aluminium, although it would prefer a system of targeted tariffs and a delay for import curbs on aluminium.

The Commerce Department recommended last week that President Donald Trump impose stiff curbs on steel imports from China and other countries and offered the three options to the president, who has yet to make a decision.

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US Defence Secretary James Mattis said he was concerned about the potential impact of the proposed measures on US allies, adding that was the reason he preferred targeted tariffs.

“[The department] believes that the systematic use of unfair trade practices to intentionally erode our innovation and manufacturing industrial bases poses a risk to our national security,” Mattis wrote in an undated memorandum posted on Thursday on the Commerce Department website.

In the memo, which referenced a December inter-agency review of the commerce recommendations, he said that since direct defence needs account for only about three per cent of US production, the proposed curbs would not damage the Pentagon’s ability to get steel and aluminium to meet national defence requirements.

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But while Mattis recommended that the tariffs on steel should proceed, the administration should wait before pressing ahead with the measures on aluminium.

“The prospect of trade action on aluminium may be sufficient to coerce improved behaviour of bad actors,” the department said.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said last week that Trump would have the final say on what measures to adopt.