The trade/national-security scam expands

By Claude Barfield

Several weeks ago, I pointed out how the Biden administration had not only continued the Trump administration’s bogus national security rationale for tariffs but also expanded it by layering on a trumped-up environmental defense claim. Now, the Biden administration’s trade officials are refusing to lift supposed security-related tariffs on the United Kingdom until British negotiators give into demands by European negotiators on trade rules for Northern Ireland.

To clarify briefly: The Biden administration kept Trump-era tariffs on steel and aluminum for a number of US allies, based on the false claim that US security was in danger. (The legal basis stemmed from a calculated misreading of Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act.)

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks during a joint statement about steel and aluminium tariffs, on the sidelines of the G20 leaders’ summit in Rome, Italy October 31, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Recently, the European Union negotiated a managed trade deal under which EU steel and aluminum exporters to the US would have a quota for duty-free items up to a certain ceiling, beyond which the original bogus security tariffs would kick in. (The quota was set low enough to protect US steel and aluminum producers.) Attempting to give a patina of unrelated legitimacy to the deal, the Biden administration expanded the rationale by promising to use their claims under Section 232 as a vehicle for reducing the carbon footprint of future steel and aluminum production. However, no details for these supposed schemes have been announced. Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s trade negotiators are moving ahead with separate negotiations with other nations, including Japan.

Enter the UK, whose top trade representatives have been laboring for months to get the same deal as the Europeans — and possibly as the Japanese and others. Meetings between the UK trade secretary and top US trade officials (namely the US trade representative and secretary of commerce) have produced no results and only noncommittal reactions from the US side. With the EU tariffs set to be reduced in the new year, giving those nations a leg up in the US market, the matter is urgent for British companies.

So what’s behind the holdup for this close US ally and the highly touted “special relationship”? In short, Joe Biden’s Irish loyalties.

Though denied by both sides, a US government memo leaked to the Financial Times revealed that the US (i.e., Biden) was irritated at the UK government’s refusal to compromise with the EU on border and trade issues related to Northern Ireland. In particular, the US is supposedly concerned that the UK’s post-Brexit trading rules with Northern Ireland would “undermine peace in region.”

So there you have it: Having adopted the blatantly false protectionist interpretation of the Section 232 security exception, the Biden administration has compounded the Trump administration’s duplicity towards US allies with a flimsy environmental explanation. Then, the Biden administration has utilized Section 232 to strong-arm a vital economic and security partner. Donald Trump must be proud.

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The trade/national-security scam expands