WASHINGTON — President Trump could announce as soon as Thursday that the United States will impose tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum, people familiar with the matter said. The move would fulfill a key campaign promise to protect American industry but could also threaten to trigger trade wars around the globe.
The exact details of the tariffs, including whether they would be broadly aimed at all imports or more narrowly tailored toward specific countries, remained unclear. Executives from steel and aluminum companies were invited to the White House Thursday morning for a ceremony that was scheduled to start at 11 a.m.
The move has been the subject of fierce lobbying by foreign governments, multinational companies and the Pentagon in recent weeks, all of whom have argued that the proposed tariffs could disrupt economic and security ties. It is likely to add tensions to ongoing negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement in Mexico City this week, as well as a planned White House meeting with a top Chinese trade official Thursday.
The announcement of tariffs would be the clearest sign yet of the ascendance of a group of White House advisers who advocate a tougher posture on trade, including Robert Lighthizer, the country’s top trade negotiator, and Peter Navarro, a trade skeptic who had been sidelined but is now in line for a promotion.
Gary D. Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, had been lobbying for months alongside others, including staff secretary Rob Porter, who recently resigned under pressure from the White House, to kill, postpone, or at least narrow the scope of the measure, people familiar with the discussions said.
“Our Steel and Aluminum industries (and many others) have been decimated by decades of unfair trade and bad policy with countries from around the world,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter Thursday morning. “We must not let our country, companies and workers be taken advantage of any longer. We want free, fair and SMART TRADE!”
The legal review of the trade measures is not yet complete, and the White House was left scrambling Thursday morning to prepare the announcement, the people familiar with the matter said.
The announcement would also come on the same day that top administration officials are scheduled to meet with China’s top economic adviser, Liu He. The White House has been eager to clamp down on Chinese imports and has several trade measures underway.
The investigation, which was launched under an obscure measure of the trade law called Section 232, has focused on whether imports were compromising American national security by degrading the industrial base. In a report released to the public in February, the Commerce Department concluded that imports were a national security threat.
The Trump administration has already issued tariffs — it imposed restrictions on foreign washing machines and solar panels in January — but trade analysts said the coming announcement could be the broadest and most significant measure yet from an administration that has vowed to take a substantially different tack on trade.
Eswar Prasad, a professor of international trade at Cornell University, said the action portended “a period of open and aggressive trade hostilities with some of America’s major trading partners” and threatened to undercut the rules of the World Trade Organization, which the United States itself was instrumental in forming.