US trade groups urge Congress to rein in 'Tariff Man' Trump

WASHINGTON • Nearly two dozen US lobbying groups have joined forces to try to rein in President Donald Trump's power to unilaterally impose tariffs amid growing concern about the negative economic impact of his trade policies.

Led by the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), the groups on Wednesday said they had formed the Tariff Reform Coalition to urge Congress to wrestle back greater control over trade policy and increase its oversight of the President's use of tariffs.

Mr Trump, who has dubbed himself "Tariff Man", has imposed or planned tariffs on steel, aluminium and nearly all US$500 billion (S$689 billion) worth of imports from China each year, as he pursues an "America First" policy aimed at rebalancing US trade ties.

NFTC president Rufus Yerxa said the US Constitution gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, and lawmakers should ensure that tariffs were used only in exceptional circumstances.

The 23 groups outlined their concerns in a letter to the two congressional committees that oversee foreign trade.

"It is clear that many of the administration's tariff actions over the past two years have had significant collateral effects on domestic prices and have led to extensive retaliation against our exports," the groups wrote, warning that measures still under consideration could inflict further harm.

The initiative comes as frustration has grown on both sides of the political aisle about Mr Trump's use of unilateral measures to impose tariffs, often citing "national security concerns", and to conclude trade agreements with little to no consultation with Congress.

Trump administration officials insist the tariffs on China are exerting a toll on the Chinese, but US farmers, retailers, manufacturers and others say the duties are hurting their industries instead.

The groups urged lawmakers to carry out a robust review of the President's policies, and said they stood ready to work on legislation that would curb his authority.


US lawmakers are considering several pieces of legislation that would limit Mr Trump's authority under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.

Mr Trump has used the law to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, and to threaten car tariffs against Japan and Europe.

Representative Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said Congress wanted to maximise its role in trade policy, but there was no consensus on how to do that.

At the same time, he said, lawmakers are agreed on the need to challenge China. But he was cautiously optimistic about Washington and Beijing eventually reaching a trade agreement.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2019, with the headline 'US trade groups urge Congress to rein in 'Tariff Man' Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe