All Saturday morning national dailies gave prominent coverage to the Trump administration’s announced plan to impose heavy tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum imports, expressing strong apprehension about a potential “trade war” since China, the EU, and others are already threatening to retaliate by adopting countervailing duties. All the dailies speculated that these announced tariffs are probably intended to please steelworkers in the Midwest in a bid to ensure a Republican victory in the midterm elections in November.
On Monday the national papers focused on the escalation of the exchange of words between the U.S. and China and the EU over the steel trade dispute, highlighting a Chinese spokesperson’s comment that although Beijing does not want a trade war with the U.S., it will “not sit idly by” if Washington takes steps that damage Chinese interests. The papers also took up a tweet by President Trump saying that “if the EU wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on U.S. companies doing business there, we will simply apply a tax on their cars which freely pour into the U.S.”
The Japanese press voiced qualms that the planned tariffs might unleash protectionist sentiments around the world. In an analysis piece, Nikkei opined that the U.S. will pay a heavy price by forcing American consumers to pay more for cars and other products. Yomiuri wrote that nations worldwide were perplexed by Washington’s unilateral measure to restrict steel trade without specifying the nations and products to be targeted.
In a related development, Saturday evening’s Nikkei and Tokyo Shimbun took up remarks made on TV on Friday by Commerce Secretary Ross, who indicated that no country will be exempted from the proposed punitive tariffs by saying: “What was announced by the President is a very broad concept.” He stressed that the proposed duties will only have a “trivial” effect on domestic prices. Other papers highlighted a briefing over the phone on Friday by an unnamed senior White House official who said: “The President made it clear that this would be an across the board tariff and there would be no exclusions in terms of countries. One problem with the exclusions is that it’s a slippery slope and you don’t know where to stop.”