April 20 (UPI) -- Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced Thursday the department is undertaking an official investigation into the economic and security risks associated with using imported steel, a first step to "possible tariffs."
President Donald Trump, in an Oval Office press conference, signed a memo initiating the probe in accordance with the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. The legislation empowers the federal government to determine whether trade practices have potentially harmful effects on the U.S. economy or national security.
Under the legislation, the Commerce Department has 270 days in which to complete its investigation, though Ross said he expects it will not take that long.
As a candidate, Trump railed against the practice of importing low-cost steel from Asia and other emerging markets that can produce raw products for construction at much lower costs than U.S. companies because workers overseas are paid far less. While the lower cost of raw goods has been a boon to the construction industry overall, it savaged the U.S. steel industry across the upper Midwest and Northeast, states now known as the "rust belt" after local economies were destroyed when steel manufacturing jobs moved out.
The investigation includes whether the domestic steel production capabilities are enough to support critical defense projects. It will also seek to determine whether imported steel could harm the economy and, by proxy, national security as a whole considering the "close relationship" between the two.
"Based on the report, the president will determine and issue necessary actions, including possible tariffs, to ensure that steel imports no longer threaten U.S. national security," the Commerce Department said.
Since it was signed into law, the Commerce Department has undertaken 14 investigations under the Trade Expansion Act.