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Tariffs On Aluminum Alienate Allies, Association CEO Says


This month marks the beginning of a new relationship between the U.S. and its trading partners, and it is not nearly as friendly as it used to be. That was the feeling at this weekend's G-7 meeting, the gathering of the world's most economically powerful nations. It took place in Canada. Leaders there said the Trump administration's decision to impose significant tariffs on steel and aluminum, quote, "undermines open trade and confidence in the global economy." European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said the EU may retaliate with its own tariffs later this month.


CECILIA MALMSTROM: We are not seeking to escalate any situation, but we need to respond. And we'll do so in a measured manner. But not responding would be the same as accepting these tariffs, which we consider are illegal.

MARTIN: The White House says the move is intended to protect U.S. industry. But many in the business of steel and aluminum are convinced the measures will do more harm than good. That includes Heidi Brock. She heads The Aluminum Association, an industry group that represents the interests of the U.S. aluminum industry. She joins me on the line from Montreal. Thanks so much for being with us.

HEIDI BROCK: Good morning. Thank you.

MARTIN: You represent the industry that the president is trying to help with these very tariffs. Why don't you think they're a good idea?

BROCK: Well, I think importantly, we share the president's goal for a vibrant and healthy aluminum industry in the United States. Where we differ is on the approach. In our view, illegally subsidized Chinese overcapacity is the problem. Tariffs and quotas on market economies really, in our concern, would be ultimately alienating allies that we need to help us on that problem.

MARTIN: So you don't buy the president's argument that this is a national security issue. And that's why European partners, Canadian partners have to be sanctioned as well.

BROCK: Well, aluminum does make a significant contribution to national security. But again, in our view, the central issue facing the aluminum industry is this overcapacity issue with China. China's continued to build up its industry in a way that it just doesn't even need, you know - for instance, China makes more than 11 million more metric tons of primary aluminum than it consumes. And that's more than 5 1/2 times the U.S. capacity.

MARTIN: So explain what will happen when these tariffs go into place, as they have now. What's going to be the real-world consequence of this on your industry?

BROCK: Well, the real-world consequence is that prices are rising. And ultimately, our concern is that that impacts the ability to have a consistent source of supply for the more than 97 percent of aluminum jobs based in the mid- and downstream production in the United States.

MARTIN: Are American steel and aluminum workers going to lose their jobs?

BROCK: You know, hopefully, that's not the case. We certainly have - you know, have a goal of continuing to grow jobs. The aluminum industry is really enjoying an unprecedented time. We have record demand occurring. So we've actually been growing jobs in the aluminum space, although we would recognize that in the segment the president is seeking to help, the primary sector - that that is a sector that has been losing jobs. We recently completed a study, and there are more than 162,000 jobs in the aluminum industry. And that number is up over recent years.

MARTIN: So this has got to be awkward for you. I mean, the president of the United States has put these tariffs in place. You think they're a bad idea. You are in Canada right now, presumably having conversations with business and government leaders there. Are you doing damage control? What's your message?

BROCK: (Laughter) You know, it's a wonderful opportunity. We're really happy to be up here in Montreal today. We're here with our colleagues from businesses in the industry. Aluminum associations from the U.S., Canada, European Union and Japan are meeting with government officials. And what we're hoping to do today is to be talking about a road map to tackle the Chinese overcapacity challenge that really is what the - what unites the global industry and what the global industry's been talking about for some time. And we're hoping to put forward some recommendations on that front.

MARTIN: But do you think those partners are going to be willing to cooperate with the U.S. in targeting China when they themselves now feel targeted by the United States, which is supposed to be an ally?

BROCK: You know, our symposium kicked off last night, and I'm very encouraged with the very constructive conversations. Again, I think this is a problem that unites our industry. This is a problem that the industry's been focused on for the past few years. And so I think, you know, we have an opportunity here to move forward in a very positive manner.

MARTIN: Would it be your preference that the president change his mind and roll back these tariffs?

BROCK: Yes, we certainly would recommend that the president do that. We've been calling for no tariffs and no quotas on countries that are acting as market economies. And we'd really like to make sure that this is an opportunity used to address the problem.

MARTIN: Heidi Brock is the president and CEO of the Aluminum Association. She is in Montreal holding conversations with Canadian and other global business and government leaders. Thank you so much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

BROCK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.