(AFP) – Top congressional Republicans on Thursday attacked US President Donald Trump’s announced tariffs on steel from the European Union, Canada and Mexico, warning that punitive measures should be targeting China instead of America’s allies.
“I disagree with this decision,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, the most influential Republican in Congress, said in a statement.
“Today’s action targets America’s allies when we should be working with them to address the unfair trading practices of countries like China,” he added, saying he intends to work with the president on “better options” to help US workers and consumers.
“These tariffs are hitting the wrong target,” added House Ways and Means Committee chairman Kevin Brady, saying Europe, Mexico and Canada “are not the problem — China is.”
As the announced tariffs prompted threats of retaliation, and an immediate riposte from Mexico, several lawmakers in Trump’s Republican Party urged a continuation of the exemptions for such major partners, instead of taking actions that risk a trade war.
While trade inequities exist between Washington and Europe, the far bigger beef is with Beijing, according to Senator Marco Rubio.
“Instead of opening up another front in trade disputes, we should be teaming up with Europe to confront China,” Rubio said, in comments similar to those of several Democrats.
The Trump administration has been working on finalizing some version of its trade sanctions on China announced in March that included restrictions on Chinese investment, export controls and 25 percent tariffs on as much as $50 billion in Chinese tech goods.
Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch described the tariffs as “a tax hike on Americans” that will have damaging consequences for consumers, manufacturers and workers alike.
“In light of the mounting evidence that these tariffs will harm Americans, I will continue to push the administration to change course,” he said in a statement.
Fellow Republican Senator Ben Sasse, an occasional Trump critic, offered a less delicate assessment.
“This is dumb,” he said.
“You don’t treat allies the same way you treat opponents,” he added, warning that blanket protectionism was one of the triggers of America’s Great Depression.