Senators Seek Investigation Into Trump Steel Tariff Exemptions

(Bloomberg) -- A bipartisan group of U.S. senators requested an independent review into the Trump administration’s process for granting product exclusions from steel and aluminum tariffs.

Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, an ardent free-trader, joined centrist Democrats Doug Jones of Alabama and Tom Carper of Delaware on Monday in demanding a review by the Government Accountability Office. The senators say that the Commerce Department as of last month had only processed about a third of the nearly 50,000 requests for exemptions.

“Members of Congress and U.S. businesses have repeatedly raised concerns about the pace, transparency and fairness of the section 232 steel and aluminum exclusion process,” the senators said in a letter to GAO head Gene Dodaro. Section 232 is a part of U.S. trade law that allows for tariffs to be imposed over national security concerns.

The 25 percent duty on steel and 10 percent levy on aluminum went into effect in March for imports from most countries and in June for Mexico, Canada and the European Union. A GAO report next year may fuel a legislative push to engineer a new exclusion process or limit the president’s ability to impose national security tariffs without congressional approval.

Toomey and Jones this year both advanced legislation aimed at limiting Trump’s power to unilaterally impose tariffs, but those measures have failed to gain traction in the Republican-controlled Senate. They also led a push earlier this month for the Trump administration to outline an exclusion process for a separate round of tariffs on Chinese goods.

Pennsylvania and Alabama manufacturers are suffering from both the metal tariffs and retaliatory duties imposed by China and allies like Canada, Mexico and the EU. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, $4.4 billion worth of Alabama’s exports and $4.1 billion of shipments from Pennsylvania are threatened by the escalating trade war.

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