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Former Commerce official decries US 'drive-by shooting' approach to trade

Houston — US President Donald Trump's approach to trade policy is like a "drive-by shooting" where "a lot of innocent people are being hit along the way," Grant Aldonas, a former US Commerce Department undersecretary for international trade, said Thursday.

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"The imposition of Section 301 and Section 232 steel tariffs is not a coherent strategy to reduce trade deficits," Aldonas said at the American Institute for International Steel's Steel-Con event in Houston. The US is a country that "does not produce as much as we consume," he said. "I don't mind breaking a few eggs to make an omelet but you need to have a recipe."

Aldonas served as the Commerce undersecretary in 2001-2005 when President George W. Bush enacted steel safeguard measures under Section 201 of US trade law.

The imposition of those "political" measures was a blunder, he said, noting that people in Washington should not be deciding who gets steel: "That's the market's job."

Other speakers on the Steel-Con trade panel agreed that the Section 232's broad-based approach is causing extreme market uncertainty and confusion.

Nithya Nagarajan, a partner at law firm Husch Blackwell, said she recently heard an apt metaphor for the Section 232 tariffs: The initial 25% global steel levy was a sledgehammer when what the market really needed was a jewelry hammer to target specific imports.

Both Aldonas and Nagarajan are concerned Trump is ignoring the rule of law. Nagarajan believes he is violating terms of Section 232 provision with his interpretation of national security.

In typical antidumping and countervailing duty cases there is due process for plaintiffs and defendants alike. Aldonas said the unilateral nature of the Section 232 action does not bode well for the rule of law.

--Michael Fitzgerald,

--Edited by Richard Rubin,