WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Friday told his administration to double the steel and aluminum tariffs against Turkey, reflecting the rapidly deteriorating state of relations between both countries.
The announcement would mark a major policy shift, but it was made in a Twitter post with little context. Trump remarked that Turkey's currency, the Lira, was weakening against the U.S. dollar, a phenomenon that would make existing tariffs less impactful.
Doubling the tariffs to 20 percent for aluminum and 50 percent for steel would magnify the impact of the trade restrictions.
Trump's move reflects a confluence of factors that have led to worsening relations between the White House and Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Treasury Department slapped sanctions on two Turkish officials last week because the country had refused to release American pastor Andrew Brunson, who faced charges in Turkey of espionage, among other things.
U.S. officials have alleged the charges are bogus, and Trump tried to secure a deal for Brunson's release but the deal fell apart when a Turkish court, rather than sending Brunson home, ordered that he be transferred to house arrest while he awaits trial.
"This innocent man of faith should be released immediately," Trump wrote in another Twitter post when it became clear Turkey would not release him.
The steel and aluminum tariffs stem from the trade fight Trump launched earlier this year with a number of countries, including Turkey. Trump has declared that the reliance of U.S. importers on foreign metals poses a national security risk to the United States, and he has increased the cost of these imports on a range of countries, including Japan, Turkey, and members of the European Union.
Turkey has vowed to retaliate, but its currency has steadily weakened in recent months, removing some of the bite of the tariffs by making Turkish good cheaper for U.S. consumers. One way to address that, as Trump signaled Friday, was to double the tariff rate, which he directed his staff to do.