U.S. president-elect Donald Trump's threat to impose a 45 percent tariff on imports from China is no longer being dismissed as mere election rhetoric following his nomination of two prominent China critics as key members of his trade team and the discovery of a long-forgotten presidential power to raise tariffs.
Trump has named Peter Navarro, the author of Death by China, as director of his White House's newly created National Trade Council and fellow China critic Robert Lighthizer as U.S. trade representative.
Meanwhile, former deputy U.S. trade representative John Veroneau, now a lawyer specializing in international trade at the Washington-based law firm Covington & Burling, discovered U.S. presidents have more power to unilaterally raise tariffs than previously thought.
Even though Trump has vowed to pursue a more aggressive trade policy with China, it was previously believed that United States law only allowed a president to unilaterally impose tariffs of up to 15 percent for as long as 150 days.
However, Veroneau and colleague Catherine Gibson wrote in an article on the Law360 legal news website last month that a section of the Tariff Act of 1930 last referred to in 1949 – ironically in relation to China – remained in the statute books and could allow a president to impose tariffs of up to 50 percent and then, if escalation was required, block imports completely.