US President Donald Trump on Monday announced plans to re-impose tariffs on steel and aluminum from Brazil and Argentina, hitting back at what he called their “unfair” policies.
The move appeared to surprise Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who considers himself an ideological ally of the Republican leader.
Industry leaders in both countries cried foul.
“Brazil and Argentina have been presiding over a massive devaluation of their currencies,” which is hurting US farmers, Trump said on Twitter.
“Effective immediately, I will restore the Tariffs on all Steel & Aluminum that is shipped into the US from those countries,” he said.
Trump last year announced global tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, but later approved exemptions for some countries, including Argentina and Brazil — after they agreed to quotas.
Bolsonaro sought to play down the issue, saying he would appeal to Trump for more understanding of Brazil’s position and boasting that he has an “open channel” with the US leader if needed.
Later, in a radio interview, Bolsonaro said: “I hope he understands and doesn’t penalize us in this matter.”
He added that he was confident he would receive a favorable hearing from the US president.
“I am almost convinced that he will hear us,” Bolsonaro said.
For its part, the Argentinian Ministry of Production and Labor said in a statement that it had asked the US for clarification about the announcement and was looking into possible “joint action” with Brazil in response.
The Brazil Steel Institute said that it was perplexed by the decision.
“There is no initiative by the government to artificially devalue the real, and the decision to tax Brazilian steel as a way to compensate American farmers is a retaliation against Brazil, which is inconsistent with the partnership relationship between the two countries,” it said.
The decision “ends up hurting the American steelmaking industry itself, which needs semi-finished products exported by Brazil in order to operate its mills,” the institute added.
Brazil is the second-largest supplier of steel to the US market behind Canada.
Jose Urtubey, spokesman for Argentina’s powerful Union Industrial Argentina employer federation, said producers in the country would be harmed immediately by the tariffs.
With Argentina’s “lack of competitiveness” as a producer, the fact that the US had the lowest steel and aluminum tariffs was “beneficial,” Urtubey said.
Javier Mandanes Quintanilla, chairman of the Aluar Group, Argentina’s only aluminum producer, viewed the tariff plan with trepidation.
“This is a measure that affects us very strongly,” he told La Nacion.
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