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As Steel And Aluminum Tariffs Take Effect, WH Considers Trade Sanctions On China


President Trump is expected to announce new trade actions against China tomorrow. The administration has been weighing tens of billions of dollars' worth of tariffs on Chinese imports. That's despite opposition from many in the U.S. business community as well as members of Congress. Meanwhile, previously announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imports are set to take effect on Friday. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: China has been accused of forcing American companies to share their technology as a price of doing business and, in some cases, stealing tech secrets outright. The administration wants to crack down by imposing tariffs on Chinese exports and possibly limiting China's investment in this country. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told lawmakers today the details are not yet final.


ROBERT LIGHTHIZER: There's no decision until the president makes it, but our view is that we have a very serious problem of losing our intellectual property, which is really the biggest single advantage of the American economy in my opinion.

HORSLEY: Rumors of the proposed tariffs have already sparked a backlash from many American businesses, including the very technology companies the administration says it's trying to protect. ITI, a trade group representing those companies, drafted a letter to the president saying while China's conduct is a problem, tariffs are the wrong response, driving up prices for American business and consumers. The group's president, Dean Garfield, would rather see the U.S. work with other countries to put pressure on China. Forty-three other trade groups signed on to his letter, including retailers, farmers and the Chamber of Commerce.

DEAN GARFIELD: When we went about trying to build the coalition, what we found was all across the economy, there was real concern about that solution.

HORSLEY: Lighthizer heard similar complaints from lawmakers today. Republican Congressman Erik Paulsen, whose Minnesota district includes the headquarters of Best Buy, says he's all for holding China accountable but not if it means higher prices on imported consumer electronics.


ERIK PAULSEN: And I hope we won't be seeing tariffs imposed on products that a lot of American families and consumers and small businesses purchase every day.

HORSLEY: Paulsen's also worried about fallout from the administration's steel and aluminum tariffs, which go into effect on Friday. He says for every steel and aluminum job gained from those tariffs, many more jobs will be put at risk as manufacturers that use steel and aluminum become less competitive.


PAULSEN: And most of those jobs are production. They're blue-collar. They're exactly the type of jobs that I think you and the president are intent on protecting.

HORSLEY: Canada and Mexico have already been exempted from those tariffs, and many other countries are seeking carveouts of their own. Those that are hit with the levies have threatened to retaliate against U.S. exports, including farm goods. Republican Congresswoman Kristi Noem got an earful about that while attending her son's basketball game back home in South Dakota.


KRISTI NOEM: A local farmer came up and sat beside me and said, Kristi, do you know what the administration is thinking on trade right now? It seems like every time they take a position, soybeans drops 40 cents a bushel, and we can't hardly pay our bills today.

HORSLEY: Noem reminded Lighthizer many farmers were big supporters of President Trump. The trade representative says he's mindful soybeans and other exports could be unintended casualties.


LIGHTHIZER: Nobody wins from a trade war. We certainly don't want a trade war. On the other hand, you have to ask yourself, can we go on with a 800-and-growing-billion-dollar trade debt? There's only a handful of countries in the whole world that have a GDP the size of that, so we have to do something.

HORSLEY: That $800 billion figure does not include the service sector, where the U.S. enjoys a trade surplus. If you count services, last year's trade deficit was $568 billion. That's 12 percent larger than when Trump took office. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.