The International Trade Secretary, usually one of leading supporters of trans-Atlantic links in the Cabinet, hit out at the President’s “America First” plans for a swingeing 25 per cent charge on metal imports.
While the President has signalled that some “friendly” nations could be exempt from the tariffs, the UK could still suffer because of its membership of the EU and the expected close links with Brussels during the proposed transition period after Brexit.
President Trump confirmed his plans for tariffs on steel and other metal imports to the US today.
Critics have warned that the move could trigger a global trade war with tit-for-tat tariffs being slapped on imports by a string of countries around the world.
Liam Fox is set to meet Donald Trump to lobby for the UK to be spared from the US’s new tariffs
Tariffs are not the right way to address the global problem of over-capacity. That requires a multilateral solution
Dr Fox, a champion of global free trade, branded the White House administration’s protectionist drive “the wrong way to go” in an outburst on BBC1’s Question Time show on Thursday.
He said the UK produces “very high-value steel, some of which can’t be sourced in the United States and will simply push up the price of steel there.
“We also make steel for the American military programme so it’s doubly absurd that we should then be caught on an investigation on national security.
“So our view is yes, we can deal multilaterally with the overproduction of steel, but this is the wrong way to go about it.”
Mr Trump signed the Section 232 Proclamation on steel and aluminium imports in the Roosevelt Room
The International Trade Secretary is due to meet senior US officials in Washington this week to discuss the issue.
Ministers have been hopeful of signing a free trade deal with the US after Brexit but fears are growing that the UK could still be hit by any tariffs imposed on EU exports.
A Downing Street spokesman said the Government will “robustly” defend the British steel industry from protectionism.
“Tariffs are not the right way to address the global problem of over-capacity. That requires a multilateral solution.
“We will work with EU partners to consider the scope for exemptions and continue to work with all sectors involved in this to robustly defend the interests of our industry.
“Liam Fox is travelling to the US next week to get more detail. The important part of this process is to get that detail and then consider the next steps.”
Pressed over whether EU rules could block the UK from benefiting from a bilateral exemption while it remains a member, the Downing Street spokesman said: “We want to work with our partners to consider the scope for exemptions.
“Obviously we remain a full member of the EU and that’s why we’re going to work with our EU partners.”
President Trump delivered remarks before signing the Section 232 Proclamation
Mr Trump confirmed the tariffs early this morning.
Speaking in the White House with a group of workers, Mr Trump announced a 25 per cent levy on steel imports and a 10 per cent tariff on aluminium in response to an “assault on our country” from cheap overseas metal.
There would be exemptions for North America Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) states Mexico and Canada, and Mr Trump said other countries may be able to negotiate to avoid the tariffs.
Mr Trump said if his goals could be accomplished “by other means” the US will remain “open to modifying or removing the tariffs for individual nations as long as we can agree on a way to ensure that their products no longer threaten our security”.
UK Steel’s director Gareth Stace said the tariffs “would have a profound and detrimental impact on the UK steel sector, which exported some 350,000 tonnes of products to the US in 2017, over 7 per cent of its total exports.”
He said: “The UK sector is in the midst of a fragile recovery following years of considerable turmoil, it would be utterly devastating if this were to be undermined.”
Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of steelworkers’ union Community, said: “Donald Trump’s short-sighted strategy will put jobs at risk on both sides of the Atlantic.
Meanwhile, new trade figures today revealed demand for British goods and services soared in the year to January.
The UK exported 350,000 tonnes of steel to the US in 2017, over 7% of its total exports
UK exports rose 11.5 per cent to £625.9 billion in the year which includes figures from February 2017 to the end of January 2018.
The country’s renowned service sector continued to thrive with exports up 10.1 per cent to £281.4billion, increasing the service surplus to £107.9 billion.
Dr Fox said: “The UK is entering a period of unprecedented economic opportunity, with latest figures showing a surge in exports together with an increase in manufacturing output at the start of the year – this adds up to a positive picture for the British economy.
“As an international economic department, we are supporting UK businesses from every part of the country to succeed on the global stage, which in turn creates more good jobs and prosperity at home.”