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Mnuchin signals more changes to tariffs plan

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Mnuchin signals more changes to tariffs plan

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday opened the door to exempting countries and products from President Trump ‘s tariffs plan.

Mnuchin said that countries beyond Mexico and Canada could be added to the exemptions list before tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum go into effect within the next couple of weeks.

“My expectation is there may be some other countries [Trump] considers in the next two weeks,” Mnuchin said on CNBC.

The Commerce Department also may look into removing certain products from the brunt of the hefty tariffs, he said.

When asked whether he is concerned the tariff policy could spark a global trade war that hurts the U.S. economy, Mnuchin insisted that “we have to defend U.S. interests.”

“Tariffs are important to preserve the steel industry,” he said.

Congressional Republicans blasted Trump’s tariffs plan and urged the president to further narrow what countries and products are captured under the proposal, which is set to go into effect in 14 days.

Lawmakers expressed concern that the tariffs could undermine the economic influence of the recently enacted tax-reform law. 

“The objective is free and fair trade so the president is very focused on creating better opportunities for U.S. companies, and that’s going to lead to growth,” Mnuchin said.

The White House’s Council of Economic Advisers in a recent report forecast 3 percent growth for this year and into the next decade. 

Mnuchin brushed off economic concerns about the tariffs, which are being imposed over national security concerns. 

“Obviously any time you do anything we have to analyze the risks,” he said.

“But if you want move forward with the agenda for American companies you have to be willing to take certain risks,” he said.

Earlier this week Trump’s top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, announced his resignation from the White House, with all signs that his much-speculated departure came over a rift about the tariffs.

Cohn had managed for the past year to offset the protectionist push inside the West Wing, but eventually he was unable to keep those forces at bay. 

“The president has a deep economic bench,” Mnuchin said. 

Mnuchin pushed back at concern that Trump’s tariff move could represent a repeat of the Smoot-Hawley tariffs implemented in 1930 by President Herbert Hoover, which some economists argue exacerbated the effects of the Great Depression. 

“I can assure that President Trump is going to be no Herbert Hoover. There is no risk,” he said. 

The president determines which countries would fall under the global tariffs plan announced on Thursday.

The Commerce Department is charged with deciding what products will be covered by the steel and aluminum tariffs.

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