Commerce secretary says tariffs won't hurt jobs, calls threats of retaliation trivial

ABC News' George Stephanopoulos goes one-on-one with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross after the president imposed new tariffs on steel and aluminum
6:29 | 03/04/18

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Transcript for Commerce secretary says tariffs won't hurt jobs, calls threats of retaliation trivial
People have no idea how badly our country has been treated by other countries, by people representing us that didn't have a clue. We're be imposing steel imports and tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. 25% for steel, 10% for aluminum. President trump signatuling his intention to impose tariffs. We welcome Wilbur Ross. Good to see you. Will we still see the tariffs? I believe so. Sometimes this week. You've got a lot of allies lobbying for modification. Will the president consider exempting any allies like Canada, Mexico and germy? I know he's had conversations with a number of world leaders. The decision is his. As of the moment, as far as I know, he's talking about a fairly broad brush. No exemptions? As I say, I have not heard him describe particular exemptions just yet. What is the national security threat posed by steel imports from Canada, Mexico, south Korea, Japan? Under 232 which is the legislation provision under which we're imposing these tariffs national security is very broadly defined. It isn't just military defense. That part is a small percentage of steel. It also includes the impact on the economy over all. It specifically includes the impact on jobs, includes the impact on infrastructure, all kinds of things that you wouldn't necessarily think are national security. The truth is economic security is national security. As you know Europeans vowed to retaliate against Harley Davidson, bourbon and blue jeans. President trump responded if the eu wants to further increase their massive tariffs, we'll apply a tax on their cars which freely flow into the U.S. They make it impossible to sell our cars. It sounds like we're already in a trade war. We have unilaterally given away all kinds of concessions since the end of World War II. In the beginning it was good policy to rebuild Europe and Asia after the war. The mistake that our trade negotiators made way back then and continued to make was not time limiting. Concessions that were reasonable to make to Germany in 1945 or China in 1945 don't make sense any more. Those are now big, strong economies. There's a lot of history that needs undone. That sounds like we're in for some more escalation. The president said in a tweet earlier this week the trade wars are good and easy to win. Do you believe that? Are trade wars good and easy to win? I think what the president had in mind was that unlike the holly days in the 1930s, back then the U.S. Had a trade surplus and the world was in a depression. Now we have a big trade deficit. If we have big trade deficit with our other partners, they have a lot more to lose than we do. Those hundreds of billions of dollars are in their pockets now, not ours. That's what I believe he meant. Sounds like the president's political allies believe this will hurt their voters. Paul Ryan warning about unintended consequences. You're seeing companies put on hold expansion. Let me give you some actual numbers. The slogans don't mean much until you put them into numbers. On an average car it's $175 worth of steel increase is the maximum that would come from a 25% tariff increase. That's not much. That's assuming no more retaliation from the Europeans. Let me continue. Similarly all the other products, the total amount of tariffs we're putting on is about $9 billion in a year. That's a fraction of 1% % of T of the economy. As to the idea of retaliation, sure they may well be some sort of retaliation. The amounts that they're talking about are also pretty trivial. Some 3 billion odd dollars of goods that this Europeans have threatened. In our size economy, that's a tiny fraction of 1%. While it might affect an individual producer for a little while, over all it won't be much more than a rounding error. Sounds like the president is going to go forward and you're committed to going forward. Any information if the president goes forward Gary Cohn will resign? He's been a big participant in the process that came to this conclusion. The president likes to hear every side of every argument. That way he's sure he's gotten all points of view. We've had lively discussion. Gary Cohn as far as I know is certainly not going to walk out. Mr. Secretary, thanks for your time this morning. Thank you.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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