Trump keeps allies guessing on steel tariffs as deadline looms

Aaron Brown
May 1, 2018

A White House official says the only thing that could stop them again is a new presidential order.

Trump is considering whether to permanently exempt the European Union and five other countries, including Australia, from tariffs that his administration imposed last month on imported steel and aluminium.

In Australia, the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said she was also pushing for a permanent exemption.

Two people familiar with the process said the Trump administration has been considering whether to provide a short-term extension of the exemptions to allow for more time to review the countries' efforts to secure permanent exemptions. "The president has not made any decision yet", Mnuchin said in an interview on Fox Business Network. The treasury secretary was due to appear at a conference in Beverly Hills later on Monday.

The steel threat has complicated talks with Canada and Mexico on a revised North American Free Trade Agreement.

The confrontation stems from the president's decision in March to slap tariffs of 25 per cent on imported steel and 10 per cent on imported aluminium.

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Australia has a $42.7 billion trade relationship with the USA, but imports more than it exports.

"There's no jurisdiction on the planet that has a better case for a full exemption than Canada, " said Joseph Galimberti, president of the Canadian Steel Producers Association. Canada is the largest source of steel imports into the United States, with an industry that is highly integrated with its southern neighbor. However, the EU has declined, and insists that it is only willing to discuss future trade terms with the USA once a permanent and unconditional offer has been made that gives European companies exemption to the new steel and aluminium tariffs.

Most analysts, however, think it's unlikely the talks will reach permanent agreements and will more likely mark the start of longer-term negotiations.

A spokesperson for the European Commission said the EU is "patient but we are also prepared".

Canada has argued that it has been supplying metals to the US military for generations, that its imports and exports of steel are balanced, and that it is working with the keep over-produced Asian steel out of North America.

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