US President Donald Trump on Friday told his administration to double the steel and aluminum tariffs against Turkey, reflecting the rapidly deteriorating state of relations between the two countries, The Washington Post reported.
“I have just authorized a doubling of Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum with respect to Turkey as their currency, the Turkish Lira, slides rapidly downward against our very strong Dollar! Aluminum will now be 20% and Steel 50%. Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!” Trump tweeted on Friday morning.
The announcement would mark a major policy shift, but it was made in a Twitter post with little context. Trump remarked that Turkey’s currency, the lira, was weakening against the US dollar, a phenomenon that would make existing tariffs less impactful.
The lira was at 5.97 against the dollar at 0842, GMT, on Friday, down some 7 percent. It had fallen as much as 14.6 percent — its biggest one-day drop since early 2001 — before paring some losses.
The lira hit a record 6.63 against the dollar late Friday.
“If they have their dollars, we have our people, our Allah [God],” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told a crowd in his hometown of Güneysu in Rize province on Friday, calling on people to beware of the “campaign” targeting the Turkish economy.
“Know this: Today, we are better than yesterday. Tomorrow, we will be better than today,” he said.
Doubling the tariffs to 20 percent for aluminum and 50 percent for steel would magnify the impact of the trade restrictions.
Trump’s move reflects a confluence of factors that have led to worsening relations between the White House and President Erdoğan.
The Treasury Department slapped sanctions on two Turkish officials last week because the country had refused to release American evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, who faces charges in Turkey of espionage and terrorism.
The Turkish prosecutor accuses Brunson, who has run a small church in İzmir for over two decades, of activities on behalf of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as well as the Gülen movement, which is accused by the Turkish government of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016, an allegation strongly denied by the movement.
US officials have alleged the charges are bogus, and Trump tried to secure a deal for Brunson’s release, but the deal fell apart when a Turkish court, rather than sending Brunson home, ordered that he be transferred to house arrest while standing trial.
“This innocent man of faith should be released immediately,” Trump wrote in another Twitter post when it became clear Turkey would not release him.
The steel and aluminum tariffs stem from the trade fight Trump launched earlier this year with a number of countries, including Turkey. Trump has declared that the reliance of US importers on foreign metals poses a national security risk to the United States, and he has increased the cost of these imports on a range of countries, including Japan, Turkey and members of the European Union.
Turkey has vowed to retaliate, but its currency has steadily weakened in recent months, hitting a record 6.63 to the dollar on Friday, removing some of the bite of the tariffs by making Turkish good cheaper for US consumers. One way to address that, as Trump signaled Friday, was to double the tariff rate, which he directed his staff to do.