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White House announces plan for heavy tariffs on imported steel

WASHINGTON  President Trump said Thursday he will sign an order next week to impose 25 percent tariffs on steel imports and 10 percent tariffs on aluminum, potentially triggering an ugly trade war with China and other countries.

He promised U.S. manufacturers that they will "have protection for a long time. You'll have to regrow your industries. That's all I'm asking."

"We are going to have much more vibrant companies," Trump added, during a listening session with several top U.S. manufacturing executives.

The announcement came after a chaotic 12-hour period in which the president pushed for an announcement Thursday and abruptly summoned the executives to the White House.

Trump himself added to the expectations by tweeting early Thursday: "Our Steel and Aluminum industries (and many others) have been decimated by decades of unfair trade and bad policy with countries from around the world. We must not let our country, companies and workers be taken advantage of any longer. We want free, fair and SMART TRADE!"

But later in the morning, the White House appeared to pull back on making a formal announcement. Trump released the details of the plan in response to shouted questions at the end of a media availability.

Administration officials did not give a reason for the back and forth, but it was likely due to a previously scheduled visit to the White House on Thursday by a high-level emissary of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Announcing punitive actions targeting Chinese steel on the same day that Xi's senior economic advisor, Liu He, is in town will only further rile Beijing and make retaliatory action a certainty.

Some analysts speculated that the confused timing reflected "internal chaos" in the White House, even as Trump and others in the administration are itching to follow through on his campaign promise to get tough on trade and protect American manufacturing.

The president has been weighing various options to limit imported aluminum and steel, which accounts for about one-fourth of American consumption and has left domestic mills running well below capacity. A decision to impose tariffs or quotas would represent one of Trump's strongest actions to overhaul U.S. trade practices that he has sharply criticized for causing industrial decline and loss of jobs.

It was unclear when Trump would ultimately make an announcement. The president has until mid-April to issue his decision on steel and aluminum tariffs under the U.S. trade law under which the administration is pursuing the punitive measures. Officials are invoking a rarely used and controversial provision of the law that grants the president wide discretion to restrict imports on the grounds of national security.

Domestic producers, along with unions and lawmakers in steel-producing states, have been pressuring Trump to act swiftly, but some in the administration have sought to restrain the president, arguing that such action will hurt some American companies and consumers of steel, and possibly the U.S. economy, and is certain to raise the ire of allies and adversaries alike, and worse, triggering a costly trade war with China.

It will open a Pandora's box, said David Loevinger, an analyst for TCW Emerging Markets Group in Los Angeles and a former senior Treasury Department official for China affairs. Other countries also will be tempted to take protectionist actions in the name of national security, he said, and other U.S. industries could seek relief from import competition for that same reason.

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