Trump's reputation as ‘the manufacturing president’ is at risk over tariffs, warns trade group CEO

Key Points
  • "There are a lot of folks right now that are very concerned about what's coming next," says the CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers.
  • Manufacturers are worried about the steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, Mexico, and the EU, Jay Timmons warns.
Manufacturers want China held accountable for distorted trade practices: NAM CEO

Donald Trump's reputation as "the manufacturing president" could be at risk over trade, National Association of Manufacturers CEO Jay Timmons told CNBC on Thursday.

"There are a lot of folks right now that are very concerned about what's coming next," Timmons said in a "Squawk Box" interview.

Manufacturers, who were optimistic about trade policies under Trump, are now worried about the president's steel and aluminum tariffs, Timmons said. Those tariffs will be imposed on Canada, Mexico and the European Union on Thursday, effective at midnight. "Those could harm manufacturers in the United States," Timmons said ahead of the official announcement.

On China, Timmons of the NAM advocacy group said U.S. manufacturers want to see Beijing held accountable for "distorted" trade practices. Under the threat of tit-for-tat trade sanctions, Trump administration officials have been talking with China about fixing the imbalances.

"The president seems to put these things on the table to give us some leverage to create a more level playing field," he said. "If that's the ultimate outcome, that's good news."

Timmons told CNBC that Trump has done more for manufacturing workers than any president in recent history, and that now he has the chance to cement his legacy by securing a "history-making trade agreement" with China.

On NAFTA, Timmons urged Trump not to rip up the agreement, saying a U.S. exit from the trilateral deal would cost manufacturing jobs. The NAM estimates that 2 million manufacturing jobs depend on exports to Canada and Mexico.

The U.S. has been trying to renegotiate the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with its partners Canada and Mexico. Trump has repeatedly said if a better deal can't be crafted he would pull the U.S. out.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.