(Bloomberg) -- Republican frontrunner Donald Trump said he would block Nippon Steel Corp.’s deal to buy United States Steel Corp. if he wins the November election, highlighting how the former president’s economic nationalism could imperil foreign investment in the US.
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“I would block it instantaneously. Absolutely,” Trump said Wednesday after meeting with the members of the Teamsters union in Washington.
“We saved the steel industry. Now, US Steel is being bought by Japan. So terrible, but yeah, we want to bring jobs back to the country,” he added.
The comments marked Trump’s first public statement on the acquisition since the Japanese company announced in December it agreed to buy the iconic American steelmaker for $14.1 billion.
Asked for a response, Nippon Steel said in an email it would continue discussions with stakeholders, including the government, in a bid to gain their understanding. “The purchase would bring great benefits to US Steel, the US steel industry, its customers, workers and the regional community,” the company added.
As president, Trump imposed 25% tariffs on global steel imports and 10% import taxes on global aluminum, citing national security concerns and saying the measures were necessary to boost domestic production. President Joe Biden has largely kept the steel tariffs in place, while making concessions for some allies such as the European Union. In December, Biden extended an exemption for EU steel and aluminum for two years.
Trump is competing with Biden to win support from blue-collar union voters, who could play a pivotal role in manufacturing-heavy battleground states like Pennsylvania, where US Steel is headquartered. Working-class, White voters supported Trump in droves in the past two elections, but Biden has looked to aggressively court the group as well.
The influential United Steelworkers union opposes the deal, and members of Congress in both parties have raised national security concerns.
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Biden’s White House has expressed concerns about the sale, which will be reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS. The review could push a decision past the election, and the Biden administration has been emphasizing the need to protect union jobs.
Pennsylvania’s two senators, both Democrats, have called on Biden’s administration to block the deal. CFIUS is led by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and the panel can block, approve or amend a deal — or send it to the president’s desk for a decision.
The Treasury Department declined to comment on Trump’s remarks.
Shares of US Steel fell as much as 3.2% after the former president made the comments.
The US steel industry currently produces the majority of the steel consumed domestically, with demand in the world’s largest economy making America one of the most durable markets for its products.
Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hideki Murai declined to comment on Trump’s remarks, and said the alliance would remain strong regardless of who wins the November election.
“Japan and the US will continue to cooperate to maintain and strengthen a free and open economic order and on economic security,” he told reporters in Tokyo.
--With assistance from Josh Wingrove, Shoko Oda and Emi Urabe.
(Updates with comment from Nippon Steel in fifth paragraph.)
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