US watchdog warns of ‘improper influence’ in tariff process

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal watchdog is criticizing the way the Trump administration handles taxes on imported steel and aluminum, saying a lack of transparency creates the appearance of “improper influence.”

The Commerce Department’s inspector general is raising questions about a process that lets steel and aluminum importers request relief from tariffs imposed in March 2018.

Other companies — mostly U.S. steel and aluminum producers that benefit from the tariffs — can object to the exemption requests.

In an Oct. 28 report, the IG said Commerce officials had discussed the requests with “interested parties” without mentioning the exchanges in official records. It also said Commerce had made it harder to get exemptions after hearing from a tariff supporter.

Commerce said it takes the IG’s critique “seriously” and “plans to further improve transparency.”

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