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Threat of US Steel Probe Looms Over G-20 Summit

Threat of US Steel Probe Looms Over G-20 Summit

When Trump launched the Section 232 steel probe in April, he said it had "nothing to do with China".

It wasn't just European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker who took advantage of today's G20 summit to explain the advantages of free trade agreements to U.S. President Donald Trump - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe did the same.

In fact, of the top 10 foreign steel suppliers, of which Canada is the largest, six are tied to the United States through NATO, NAFTA or bilateral defense treaties; two others, Taiwan and Brazil, are old USA friends. He gave the example of his Apple iPhone, which is designed in the US, made in China with some USA parts, and sold in Europe - an argument he first advanced to his fellow G-20 leaders in response to Trump's assertion that he will always defend American workers. Any penalties could have a ripple effect on other trading partners and allies such as Germany, Japan, Russia, South Korea and Mexico, all major steel exporters to the U.S.

Earlier this week, Abe and representatives of the European Union signed a political agreement for a trade deal that will cover more than a quarter of global economic output. Trump said China is committing "the greatest jobs theft in the world history". Many Republicans-including many in his administration, according to an Axios report-oppose new tariffs.

The investigation is peculiar in that the top providers of steel to the USA are allies, led by Canada, both the U.S.'s top importer and exporter of steel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been clearer than most about his distaste for Trump's policies. Juncker said that Europe expects to increase its exports to Japan by a third after trade barriers drop away.

German police officers detain an anti G20 protester in Hamburg
German police officers detain an anti G20 protester in Hamburg

Several of those exporters-Canada, Turkey, and Germany-are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and as such the Trump administration may have to show that their strategic partners in the military alliance are somehow threatening US national security interests.

The Trump administration argues the US has become too dependent upon foreign steel for its infrastructure and military equipment.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has criticized Trump's view of global trade.

WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo told Reuters it would be concerning to see countries making national security demands within the WTO's dispute settlement system, the global trade court for the its 164 members. Indeed, analysts have warned that tariffs could drive up steel prices for USA manufacturers.

The leaders agreed in the final statement of the G-20 leaders that they would "fight protectionism and all unfair trade practices and recognize the role of legitimate trade defense instruments in this regard".

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