Trump, Turnbull working on steel tariff exemption agreement

Saul Bowman
March 12, 2018

Trump danced around the question of whether the threat of tariffs will be used to bully Canada and Mexico at the NAFTA bargaining table.

In Sydney, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull cited Washington's strong relationship with Australia, adding: "There is no case for imposing tariffs on Australian steel".

U.S. trading partners were on Friday given a 15 day window to negotiate exemptions to the tariffs, due to come into effect in a fortnight.

"There will be a lot of high-level discussions as we proceed with this", he said Friday after touring a JetBlue facility in NY to celebrate the company's tax cut bonuses.

Trump, who cited a rarely invoked national security section of United States trade law as the legal basis for his decision, said he aims to protect the USA industries. Japan, the top United States ally in Asia, was next in line.

Economists say the region's economic growth potential could be hit by a trade war. It urged the United States to withdraw the measures as quickly as possible. "NAFTA discussions will be part of that only because NAFTA is an important part of the security relationship within the hemisphere".

Trump has said Canada and Mexico are exempt for now, and other countries could be spared if they can convince the administration their steel and aluminum exports don't threaten American jobs and industry.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said after meetings in Brussels that she got "no immediate clarity on the exact USA procedure for exemption", and that new talks are planned for next week.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday warned Trump against forging ahead with the planned tariffs, saying they risked provoking a mutually destructive "trade war".

European Union countries were compiling a list of USA products that could be subject to reciprocal levies. "If we need to renegotiate, we can do that, but I am committed to free trade agreements with our neighbors".

Malmstrom told reporters the European Union was ready to complain to the World Trade Organization, and retaliate within 90 days.

After meetings with USA trade envoy Robert Lighthizer in Brussels, EU and Japanese trade officials said negotiations would need to continue. Shares in European steel makers fell, although Germany's two biggest producers, Thyssenkrupp and Salzgitter, have insisted the impact on them will be limited.

Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, whose constituency in south Wales includes the giant Port Talbot steelworks, said Theresa May had "let down" British workers by failing to stand up to the US President.

Beijing vowed to "firmly defend its legitimate rights and interests". Tariffs would "seriously impact the normal order of worldwide trade", the Commerce Ministry said.

The steel tariff investigation was launched to see the impact of steel imports on US national security. Trump has championed coal exports as demand from power firms at home weakens.

Trump insisted in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron - a leading European Union player staunchly opposed to the tariffs - that the "decision is necessary and appropriate to protect national security".

Freeland said it was absurd to consider Canadian steel a national security threat and that "as far as Canada is concerned there is absolutely no connection" between the national security reasons cited for the steel tariffs and NAFTA. "We should prevent a trade war situation from excessive protectionism, in which the entire world harms each other", Trade Minister Paik Un-gyu told a meeting with steelmakers.

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