China is just America's 11th-biggest supplier of foreign steel and the fourth-biggest supplier of aluminum. The retail industry successfully pushed back past year against a proposal by Republican leaders in Congress to apply a border tax on imports. The Trump administration may have already answered the second.
Trump says the steelworkers are part of the reason he won the presidency.
What economic thinking went into the Trump tariffs announced last week?
"While U.S. steel production capacity has remained flat since 2001, other steel-producing nations have increased their production capacity, with China alone able to produce as much steel as the rest of the world combined", the U.S. Department of Commerce reported.
Other countries, too, could be spared, the president said, if they can convince the administration that their steel and aluminum exports don't threaten American industry.
The US does not have a trade deficit with Canada.
Trump is ordering import tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum later Thursday. The Ministry of Commerce said in a statement Friday that China will take "strong measures' to protect its own interests and warned the US government's actions will "seriously shake" the global trade order".
All three sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they didn't want to publicly discuss industry purchasing trends. Canada and Mexico are excluded from the levies - provided they agree to renegotiate a North American trade deal to his satisfaction - and other countries could be as well.
Opponents of the tariffs spent Thursday engaged in last-minute lobbying to blunt the impact.
USA officials are still examining various options, and USTR could decide to do nothing, the people said, adding that an announcement is expected next month.
But the White House has repeatedly undermined its own legal case, including by intimating that the tariffs would be lorded over Canada and Mexico as some kind of negotiating tool to extract NAFTA concessions.
Trump says he's sticking with his initial plan for import tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum.
His comments in a Cabinet meeting Thursday come hours before a 3:30 p.m. meeting to formalize the tariffs amid uncertainty in the West Wing over which countries will be exempted from the protectionist measure.
Responding to a question, Trump said the United States is negotiating NAFTA with Mexico and Canada, which will be exempted from the steel and aluminum tariff.
"We have to protect & build our Steel and Aluminium Industries while at the same time showing great flexibility and cooperation toward those that are real friends and treat us fairly on both trade and the military", he tweeted earlier.
The spokesperson also said the WTO has fielded some informal concerns from countries about Trump's tariffs, but no formal complaint.
"The U.S. government launched an investigation into steel and aluminum imports to respond to countries whose trade practices represent a threat to American national security", Neumann said.
The announcement followed a day of confusion in Washington, with lawmakers left in the dark about the specifics of Trump's plan until a legislative briefing was scheduled just minutes before the White House ceremony.