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Senate protests Trump trade war by demanding more say over tariffs

Mythili Sampathkumar

The US Senate has passed a resolution that is a “rebuke” of Donald Trump’s use of tariffs.

As a response to the growing frustration from both Democrats and Republicans over the president placing high tariffs on imported steel and aluminium, the Senate’s resolution seeks to give it some leverage over future trade penalties the president wants to be passed in the name of national security.

“Let’s be clear, this is a rebuke of the president’s abuse of trade authority. Can you imagine being Canada and being told your steel and aluminium exports to the US [are] a national security threat?” Republican Senator Jeff Flake said.

The resolution passed by an 88-11 vote, but it is a nonbinding resolution, meaning trade deal negotiators can ignore the Senate’s guidance.

Republican Senator Bob Corker, retiring after the midterm elections and frequent adversary of Mr Trump, has said the effort is only “a baby step”.

However, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee and co-author of the resolution, said it was an important “vote for Congress to assume its rightful role”. He wrote the document with Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, known for its steel industry.

The resolution is in direct response to Mr Trump imposing up to 25 per cent tariffs on steel and aluminium from Europe, Canada, and Mexico for the sake of national security, though no explanation of what threat that could be was really provided by the administration.

It requires Congressional approval for any tariffs brought under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which states national security should be the main reason for issuing tariffs.

As a result, Canadian politicians had threatened to slap tariffs on US dairy farmers’ imports and the EU said Levi’s jeans, Kentucky bourbon, orange juice, and other American goods could face high duties as well.

It was the second day in a row the US Senate has challenged Mr Trump, who is currently in Brussels for a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato).

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution in support of Nato as Mr Trump had tweeted insults towards the multilateral group, including complaining about countries paying dues.

“Many countries in NATO, which we are expected to defend, are not only short of their current commitment of 2% (which is low), but are also delinquent for many years in payments that have not been made. Will they reimburse the US?,” he tweeted, not fully understanding how the organisation operates.

Countries do not owe the US any money as part of their membership in Nato. Contributing a percentage of a country’s GDP is simply a commitment to do so to Nato, not countries like the US that have been paying its dues.

A central element of Nato’s worldview, is Article 5 of the group’s charter, which states that an attack on one member is akin to an attack on all of them.

The only time it has been invoked was for the September 11th attacks.