US steel users challenge Trump's authority to impose tariffs in court

A group representing users of imported steel filed Wednesday the first known legal challenge to steel tariffs imposed by US President Donald Trump earlier this year.

With the lawsuit, taken to the US Court of International Trade in New York by the American Institute for International Steel (AISS) and two of its member companies, the plaintiffs are trying to overturn the decades-old trade law that allowed Trump to penalize imports of aluminum and steel.

The group argues Trump’s move was unconstitutional, adding that it rests on an additional flaw that lets Congress delegate trade powers to US presidents.

Lawsuit comes as Republican senators consider options to limit Trump’s unilateral authority to impose tariffs on national-security grounds. 

“Unlike most cases brought against actions of the Trump administration, it is Congress — through its delegation of unfettered discretion to the President in this statute — and not the President that is the violator of the Constitution,” Alan Morrison, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “The President simply took advantage of the opportunity to impose his views on international trade on the American people, with nothing in the law to stop him.”

The suit comes as Republican senators consider options to limit Trump’s unilateral authority to impose tariffs on national-security grounds. Among the potential measures, the legislators may try to pursue legislation on the 232 statute, a 1960s trade law that gives the president broad powers to bypass Congress in his decision.

It also follows rumours about the Canadian government considering imposing a quota — or limit on the amount of a good that can be imported in a year — on steel imports from certain countries such as China. If a country exceeds the quota, Bloomberg reported, any additional steel would be subject to an additional tax as the metal comes into Canada.

Canadian steelmakers themselves have been pressing for safeguard measures, saying tariffs are already taking a heavy toll and could lead to factories shutdowns.

Beyond the tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum imports, Trump is set to start collecting import taxes on $34 billion in trade from China next week. His administration is also considering imposing up to 25% tariffs on imported vehicles under the same national security provision used for the steel tariffs.