A worker stacks steel pipes in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad. Photo: Reuters/Amit Dave

Economic nationalists have grown frustrated with the failure of Trump to follow through on some of his tough trade rhetoric, including an action on steel that officials said in late June was coming soon.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross complained to members of Congress at a private briefing that the plan to restrict steel imports was now facing “complexities”, which include competing interests of US producers, users and retaliation from trading partners including the EU.

The push back to the more extreme plan of a blanket 25% tariff on imports has seen it evolve into a more complicated system of quotas and tariffs. The president himself also threw a legal monkey wrench in the plans, say trade lawyers, when he repeatedly stressed the move is intended to combat “dumping” by countries such as China.

“No one should be surprised when other WTO members point to the administration’s own statements to show that this . . . violates the WTO,” Gregory Spak, head of the international trade practice for law firm White & Case, was quoted by the Financial Times as saying.

While the economic nationalists in Washington have pointed to the “swamp” of lobbyists pushing business interests, it seems that the economic reality of global trade is really what is stopping Trump’s trade agenda in its tracks.