Trade Cases

Senate Continues Push for Section 232 Reform

Written by Sandy Williams

A Senate Foreign Relations hearing went awry when the administration sent Manisha Singh, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, to answer committee members’ questions about Section 232 measures.

Singh was unable to provide Senate members evidence of a coherent trade strategy by the administration. Singh was asked to comment on the impact of tariffs on business, alienation of allies, lack of transparency with Congress, and efforts to rein in trade abuse by China.

Singh’s insistence that “there is a strategy,” and the administration was “committed to working with our allies,” was met with criticism by Senate members.

“It is pretty apparent that we don’t have a stated plan,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA).

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) said allies are puzzled and offended by the Section 232 tariffs levied against them in the name of national security.

“You have launched a war – President Trump has launched a trade war” without a strategy, said Coons.

When Singh was asked to name a single country that approved of Trump’s trade policy, she did not answer, prompting Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) to retort, “Probably Russia, wouldn’t you think?”

Cardin added that the administration “should be on notice” after Senators voted overwhelmingly that the president was misusing Section 232 and “harming our national security.”

Senate to Push Section 232 Reform

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said last week that legislation to revoke Section 232 tariffs is forthcoming, but there are still details to work out.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) plans to introduce legislation in the next few weeks that will tighten the definition of national security under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.

“I believe that the entity that is best capable of determining what’s in our national security interest is the Department of Defense, and I believe the statute could be changed to do that,” said Portman during the meeting with Singh. “I believe there ought to be a tightening of the criteria so we understand what national security is using the [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] and joint chief’s definition. I believe that the disapproval, which is already in the legislation, could be brought into all products, not just oil.”

The reference to oil concerns an addition to the statute in 1980 after congressional disapproval of actions taken by the president regarding imports of petroleum and petroleum products. The statute was amended “so that passage of a resolution of disapproval would nullify any presidential action on petroleum.” Portman’s proposed changes would expand the language to include all products.

“I think there are things we could do to ensure that going forward we don’t misuse 232, because my concern is that we will lose the tool,” said Portman.

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