By Adam Behsudi | 04/20/2017 10:00 AM EDT

With help from Doug Palmer and Megan Cassella

TRUMP GETS SERIOUS ON STEEL: President Donald Trump will sign an executive order today directing the Commerce Department to investigate whether steel imports into the U.S. should be blocked on national security grounds, an administration official told POLITICO.

Representatives from ArcelorMittal, Nucor, U.S. Steel, AK Steel and Timken as well as the president of the United Steelworkers union have been invited to the White House for the event at noon. The proposed order would direct Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to launch an investigation under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, a rarely used provision.

A Section 232 investigation requires the Commerce secretary to report to the president within 270 days whether a certain product is being imported in sufficient quantities or under such circumstances that it threatens to impair national security. The president then has another 90 days to decide whether to "adjust" imports or take some other non-trade related action.

"It's a pretty draconian statute," said Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which published a report last year on a variety of tools buried in U.S. law that Trump could use to restrict imports.

The measure gives the president broad discretion to define national security, and he would not have to show that domestic producers have been materially injured by the imports as is the case in countervailing duty and anti-dumping investigations, Hufbauer said. To read more, Pros can click here.

IT'S THURSDAY, APRIL 20! Welcome to Morning Trade, where we don't know if bombing simulations set to orchestra music is normal in North Korea or if the world is really going off the deep end. Got any trade news to share? Let me know: abehsudi@politico.com or @abehsudi.

RYAN WANTS U.S.-U.K. DEAL ASAP: House Speaker Paul Ryan wants a trade deal between the United States and United Kingdom in place "as soon as possible," but he also reaffirmed that America is committed to concluding trade talks with the European Union.

"This is one of the bipartisan messages I bring with me: that the United States stands ready to forge a new trade agreement with Great Britain as soon as possible, so that we may further tap into the great potential between our people," Ryan said in a speech at a London think tank on Wednesday, one day after British Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election to strengthen her hand in Brexit talks with the EU.

Ryan rejected the argument that last year's Brexit vote in the U.K. and the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. showed that the two leading economies were retreating from trade liberalization and closing themselves off from the world. "Let me put that myth to rest. We are more determined than ever to lead," Ryan said. "We don't want China to write the rules of the 21st-century global economy. We want to do that. We want a level playing field for our businesses."

Ryan didn't leave out the EU, though. "The United States will continue to work closely with our EU friends, and chart a path forward on [Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] negotiations," Ryan added.

TILLERSON PRODS SAUDIS TO BUY AMERICAN: The United States wants Saudi Arabia to award more of its government contracts to American companies, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday, one day after Trump signed an executive order that could make it harder for foreign companies to compete in the U.S. government procurement market.

"The Trump administration has made it clear that one of our policy priorities is to get better deals for the United States," Tillerson said in a speech at the U.S.-Saudi Arabia CEO Summit hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "By choosing U.S. companies for its procurement and service needs, the kingdom will reap the benefits of what our private sector is best known for - superior technology, high-quality products, creativity, professionalism, and reliable service - and importantly, partners you can count on to deliver on their commitments."

The former Exxon Mobil chairman and CEO also praised Saudi Arabia's plan to take a number of steps to transform its economy by 2030, including increasing the private sector's contribution to GDP from 40 percent to 65 percent, raising the share of non-oil exports from 16 percent to 50 percent and phasing out subsidized pricing for energy. "We encourage these kinds of reforms globally, and we certainly applaud Saudi Arabia's leadership in pursuing this vision and economic progress for the region," Tillerson said.

Saudi Arabia is pushing the reform package because "we face many forces of change to the existing economic and structural models, which require a new response and vigorous leadership," Saudi Minister of Commerce and Investment Majid Al-Qasabi told the group. Those challenges include a dramatic cut in revenue because of lower oil prices and a shortage of jobs for the kingdom's young population. "We need to expand our infrastructure and services at least as fast as our population grows," he said.

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DEPUTY COMMERCE NOMINEE WITHDRAWS: Todd Ricketts, Trump's pick to be deputy Commerce secretary, withdrew his name from consideration on Wednesday due to difficulties untangling his financial holdings to satisfy ethics rules. Ricketts, a co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, "was willing to divest his considerable personal portfolio of holdings, but that was apparently not enough," according to the Chicago Sun-Times, which first reported the news.

The son of billionaire Joe Ricketts, who founded TD Ameritrade, Todd Ricketts was a major donor to Trump during his presidential campaign. Trump officially tapped Ricketts in late November to serve under Ross, making him one of the first to be tapped for a deputy slot. He was among the relatively small number of names so far announced for deputy- or undersecretary-level positions at various Cabinet agencies.

OECD CHIEF: PROTECTIONISM HURTS THE PROTECTED: "Trade is opportunity!" That was the hopeful message Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, delivered in Minneapolis on Wednesday where he and former USTR Robert Zoellick received the Bill Frenzel Champion of Free Trade Award, named for the late Minnesota congressman.

"Protectionism harms those it's supposed to protect. Trade delivers affordable products and services that underpin everyday wellbeing. It gives people the ultimate freedom of choice. When you tax imports, costs go up for everyone, but it hurts most those who can least afford it," Gurria said, arguing countries need an offensive strategy to lift up workers left behind by globalization, rather than go on defense to block imports.

PERDUE PITCHES STRONG ROLE IN TRADE TALKS: Sonny Perdue is hot to trot on establishing a USDA undersecretary for trade and being the farming industry's chief salesman around the world should he be confirmed as Agriculture secretary, according to documents obtained by Pro Agriculture. In responses to questions submitted for the record by nearly a dozen Senate Agriculture Committee members, Perdue said he will request that a plan for implementing the new trade post at USDA be developed and reported to Congress. The former Georgia governor, whose confirmation vote in the Senate is scheduled for Monday, promised Sen. Steve Daines that he would fill the position as quickly as possible.

Perdue, in response to multiple senators who raised concerns about the Trump administration's trade agenda, also said he plans to work side by side with Ross and prospective U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to ensure future trade deals expand and protect markets for American farmers and ranchers: "If confirmed, I will be an aggressive partner in making sure that all of American agriculture is represented in our trade efforts," he told Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Sen. Chuck Grassley brought up frequent delays in other countries' approval of new biotechnology traits for grain crops, such as China, and asked what Perdue would do to streamline the process so farmers can have the best technology as soon as possible. Perdue said he will "insist that USDA be more aggressive in supporting advancements in biotech." Check the full story from Pro Ag's Jenny Hopkinson and Catherine Boudreau here.

U.S. SHOOTS DOWN INDIA'S WTO COMPLIANCE PANEL REQUEST: The U.S. blocked India's first request for a compliance panel that would examine whether New Delhi is complying with an earlier ruling that faulted restrictions on imports of U.S. poultry and other agricultural products.

The appellate body first declared India's import restrictions illegal in a ruling in 2015, directing the country to revise measures aimed at addressing concerns over the spread of avian flu. After India released a revised compliance measure in September, the U.S. complained the following month at a meeting of the dispute settlement body that the import restrictions were still "substantially more trade-restrictive" than what is allowed under international trading rules.

India made a second round of changes to its regulations that the U.S. argues still falls short of being in compliance with trade rules. "The United States is confident that India has no basis for asserting compliance with the [dispute settlement body] recommendations in this dispute," the U.S. delegation said at a Wednesday meeting of the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body, according to prepared remarks provided to POLITICO. U.S. officials said a compliance panel proceeding wouldn't lead to a prompt resolutions of the dispute and work continues to try to cooperatively find a solution to the ban on U.S. poultry products.

LATIN AMERICAN COUNTRIES SOUND ALARM OVER APPELLATE BODY PROCESS: Two Appellate Body members at the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body are facing the end of their terms - one at the end of June, the other in mid-December - and a number of members are beginning to raise concerns that the process to fill those seats has yet to begin, a Geneva source told Morning Trade.

Part of the delay is due to questions surrounding the process, as the DSB is considering whether to pursue one single selection process to fill both seats at the same time, or whether to proceed with two independent processes. Japanese Ambassador Junichi Ihara, the body's chairman, said at a meeting on Tuesday only that he is continuing consultations about the process and is committed to finding a solution as soon as possible, but has yet to make any final decisions.

The delay is of particular worry for Latin American countries. The Appellate Body member whose term expires first, on June 30, is Mexican official Ricardo Ramírez Hernández, and six Latin American nations took to the floor in an attempt to make sure that his seat is passed on to a member from the same region, as it traditionally has.

Six other nations from around the world similarly raised concerns that the replacement process had yet to start, but two of them - Canada and Australia - emphasized that merit, not geographical origin, should be the primary reason for appointing a member. The Dispute Settlement Body will meet again May 22.

U.S. DAIRY INDUSTRY SLAMS 'ABSURD' CANADIAN ARGUMENT: The National Milk Producers Federation shot back at Canada's "absurd" claim that there is no relationship between a new Canadian dairy ingredients policy and lost sales north of the border.

"The problems this pricing policy are creating for dairy farmers in Wisconsin, New York and Minnesota are real, and they have nothing to do with U.S. 'overproduction,' as alleged in a recent letter from Canada's Ambassador to the United States, David MacNaughton," NMPF President Jim Mulhern said in a statement. "U.S. companies had, until recently, supplied Canadian customers during periods of relatively tight supplies and when production increased."

Mulhern added that Canada didn't like U.S. farmers supplying their processors' demand for milk proteins "so they changed the rules of the game." The Canadian dairy industry is implementing a new pricing program and "national ingredients strategy" that allows Canadian cheese makers to buy certain ingredients from domestic producers at the lowest world market price. The U.S. industry argues that the policy is effectively pricing their duty-free exports of ultra-filtered milk, a key ingredient in cheese, out of the Canadian market.

GROUP: COMMERCE'S HARDWOOD PLYWOOD DECISION INEFFECTIVE: The American Alliance for Hardwood Plywood expressed dismay on Wednesday with the Commerce Department's decision to slap preliminary countervailing duties ranging from around 10 percent to more than 100 percent on Chinese imports of hardwood plywood, saying the ruling will "benefit nobody in the United States."

The issue, the group said in a statement, is that most duties totaled only 9.89 percent, while the 111 percent level was a penalty margin levied only against one company that did not fully cooperate and others that did not respond to questionnaires - likely, AAHP said, because they do not export plywood.

"The federal government has tied one arm behind the backs of the U.S. cabinet makers and other manufacturing industries by denying them a level playing field in raw material sourcing with their offshore competitors," group Chairman Greg Simon said in a statement. "The petitioners' dreams that they will enjoy sales increases are a fantasy, even with these high duties."

INTERNATIONAL OVERNIGHT

- Homebuilders could be among the early losers of Trump's trade policies as a long-simmering lumber dispute between the U.S. and Canada is pushing up the price of supplies, Bloomberg reports.

- A NAFTA review panel has unanimously ruled that the Commerce Department must reconsider costly duties against Canadian paper mills that produce glossy paper, The Canadian Press reports.

- Mexican officials are in Buenos Aires this week with the hope of striking a trade deal with Argentina by the end of the year, teleSUR reports.

- Australia and New Zealand dairy industry leaders say they would support a WTO case against Canada's dairy policies, Reuters reports.

- China is pushing to quickly conclude exploratory talks with Canada for a possible free trade agreement, The Globe and Mail reports.

THAT'S ALL FOR MORNING TRADE! See you again soon! In the meantime, drop the team a line: abehsudi@politico.com and @abehsudi; mcassella@politico.com and @mmcassella; dpalmer@politico.com and @tradereporter; and jlauinger@politico.com and @jmlauinger. You can also follow @POLITICOPro and @Morning_Trade.

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