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Donald Trump moves towards imposing tariffs on steel imports

The US has set the stage for a global showdown over steel, launching a national security investigation that could lead to sweeping tariffs on steel imports in what would be the first significant act of economic protectionism by President Donald Trump.

The decision to use a 1962 law allowing the US government to limit imports that threaten its security readiness is intended to deliver on Mr Trump’s campaign promises to bolster heavy industry and “put new American steel into the spine of this country”, officials said on Thursday.

But it risks setting off trade tensions with China just days after Mr Trump avoided another conflict by backing down on a promise to label Beijing a currency manipulator, citing in part its help in dealing with North Korea.

Mr Trump called the move a “historic day for American steel” but insisted it “has nothing to do with China”.

“This has to do with worldwide, what’s happening,” he added. “The dumping problem is a worldwide problem.”

The new push on steel came as Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, repeated a warning that protectionism represented a serious threat to global growth.

But Ms Lagarde, whose has been locked in a rhetorical battle over protectionism with Mr Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, sought to reach out to the White House by acknowledging a need for changes in global trade. Echoing some of Mr Trump’s criticism of the multilateral system, the former French finance minister said there were increasing signs countries were violating global trading rules.