Desaque said: "If President Trump really wanted to raise the ante in encouraging import substitution, then focusing tariffs on finished capital and consumer goods would seemingly make more sense".
Tariffs are generally not a good way to promote domestic industry. If the United States claims the right to take what would be in effect discretionary trade protection under the national security exception in GATT Art XXI, the European Union could of course challenge this in the WTO.
There's also the danger that making metals more expensive will hurt a lot more USA manufacturers than it helps. But WTO cases take time and during this time the United States steel industry could have some temporary relief.
The case for action set out in the Section 232 investigation by the Department of Commerce appears to be based on the view that any reduction in the existing production capacity would damage USA national security.
It will also harm United States exporters. China now makes up a small percentage of America's steel imports.
The U.S. tariffs could push producers to sell still more to Southeast Asia, depressing steel prices.
The list covers $850 million worth of steel products that Trump says he is supporting with his tariffs, with other large targets including more than $500 million worth of bourbon in different sized containers, nearly $200 million in sea-going motorboats and motor yachts, nearly $200 million in "eye makeup preparations" and more than $140 million in "lip make-up preparations".
In 2016, Trump promised America that he, alone, could fix it. This is the exact opposite of the increased worldwide manufacturing prowess that Trump has promised.
Gary A. Cohen is a Clinical Professor of International Business, Global Trade and Supply Chain Management at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. But military shipbuilders will be hurt by higher metals prices, as will makers of tanks, planes, guns and other crucial defense equipment.
The reason is technology.
Irish MEP Matt Carthy told the debate on Wednesday that President Trump "does not care about lower income workers, their jobs, their wages or their rights". If anything, by hurting downstream industries like auto and equipment manufacturers, the new import taxes will probably kill more factory jobs than they save. Trump's election proves that a sizable number of voters in both parties aren't buying into the unfettered unilateral free trade posture that the USA government has held for the last several decades. Reagan raised tariffs and tightened restrictions on a wide range of industries, including textiles, automobiles, motorcycles, steel, lumber, sugar, and electronics. America helped other countries protect their own industries through high tariffs until they could recover. Countries in Asia and Africa, however, need lots of new steel to fuel their economic development. By not targeting this nation's chief economic rival and providing openings for it in multilateral agreements, Trump is helping to make China great again. Selling more steel and aluminum overseas is a much better bet than trying to capture a bigger slice of a stagnating pie back home. "Beijing took a moderate attitude towards Trump last year so the trade war was only a verbal one, but clearly this year it will not just be verbal any more", said Shi Yinhong, director of the Centre on American Studies at Renmin University of China.
So by raising tariffs on select products, he is picking the domestic winners who should be able to expand production in the face of less worldwide competition and hire more local workers.
Noah Smith is a Bloomberg View columnist. - Ed.