I have a piece in The Spectator on-line covering this tortured issue. In it, I note
The action was not taken on anti-dumping grounds but under national security provisions, which are anchored on ‘domestic production needed for projected national defense requirement’
It does however cover a much wider range of products than previous goods covered under this (relatively rarely used) provision. Moreover the President’s tweets and other remarks have suggested it has anti-dumping and anti-“fair trade” rationales, both of which are almost certainly spurious. Even more so is the use of trade measures to favour allies like Australia and, worse still, to punish those nations that have a trade surplus with the US.
The World Trade Organisation allows exceptions to new tariffs when national security is at stake. But other countries need to accept the merits of the action. According to the New York Times, if the World Trade Organization rules against the United States, the Trump administration will have to decide whether to reverse its decision or go up against the organization. If the United States ignores or withdraws from the group, it could precipitate a breakdown in global trading rules and a new era of global protectionism. Perhaps so but such ominous statements have made in response to earlier ill-judged measures that have turned back freedom of commerce but done so only temporarily.
Like every other economist, I fully support free trade and a dismantling of all barrier to trade both as a means of lowering costs to consumers and to ensure that capital is directed into areas that offer the best returns and hence highest levels of productivity and future wealth. However there’s this anomaly
Finally, although free trade brings advantages to all and to the country that dismantles its tariffs, there is only one country, Hong Kong, that has actually achieved high living standards by relentlessly pursuing the policy. In the nineteenth century, US tariffs were the immediate cause of the Civil War, while Germany and Japan prospered with them even before China, India and other countries adopted protective walls behind which their domestic industries grew. Of course, the Soviets and countless centrally planned economic foundered on high tariffs accompanied by other measures and none of these success stories could have been possible without low levels of regulation. But the issue is complicated.