United States steel tariff 2002political issue in the United States regarding a tariff that President George W. Bush placed on imported steel on March 5, 2002 (took effect March 20). The tariffs were lifted by Bush on December 4, 2003.
The temporary tariffs of 8-30% were originally scheduled to remain in effect until 2005. They were imposed to give U.S. steel makers protection from what a U.S. probe determined was a detrimental surge in steel imports. More than 30 steel makers had declared bankruptcy in recent years. Steel producers had originally sought up to a 40% tariff. Canada and Mexico were exempt from the tariffs because of penalties the U.S. would face under free-trade agreements. Additionally, developing countries such as Argentina, Thailand, and Turkey were also exempt.
Both the issuing and the lifting of the tariffs caused controversy in the United States. Some of the president's political opponents, such as Representative Dick Gephardt criticized the plan for not going far enough. For some of the president's conservative allies, imposing the tariff was a step away from Bush's committment to free trade. Critics also contended that the tariffs would harm consumers and U.S. businesses that relied on steel imports, and would cut more jobs than it would save in the steel industry. Supporters of the tariffs believed that U.S. steel producers were being harmed by illegal "dumping" of steel below the cost of production on world markets.
There was a widespread belief on all sides of the debate, confirmed by top Bush administration officials, that politics played a role in the decision to impose tariffs. Namely, the large and important Rust Belt swing states of Pennsylvania and West Virginia would benefit from the tariffs. The placement of the tariffs was an odd one for Bush who has signed numerous free trade agreements during his term in office.
The tariffs ignited international controversy as well. Immediately after they were filed, the European Union announced that it would impose retaliatory tariffs on the U.S., thus risking the start of a major trade war. To decide whether or not the steel tariffs were fair, a case was filed at the World Trade Organization.
In late autumn of 2003, the WTO came out against the steel tariffs, saying that dumping was not a significant problem and that the tariffs represented an illegal barrier to free trade. After receiving the verdict, Bush decided to lift the tariffs, which had been drawing criticism at home from other important political constituencies, especially from automobile manufacturers and other heavy steel users.
The early withdrawal of the tariffs also drew political criticism from steel producers, as well as supporters of protectionism, but was cheered by proponents of free trade and steel importers. When he lifted the tariffs, Bush said, "I took action to give the industry a chance to adjust to the surge in foreign imports and to give relief to the workers and communities that depend on steel for their jobs and livelihoods. These safeguard measures have now achieved their purpose, and as a result of changed economic circumstances it is time to lift them."
Soon after the tariffs were lifted, steel prices in the U.S. began to rise. This continued through the first quarter of 2004. As of early April, 2004, steel warehousers see no sign of significant in-bound steel from foreign shores that could drive the price of steel down to the level it had reached before Bush withdrew the tariffs.