WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said Thursday it would exempt the European Union and four other allies — Australia, Argentina, Brazil and South Korea — from steel and aluminum tariffs that take effect Friday.
President Donald Trump “has decided to pause the imposition of the tariffs with respect to those countries,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told lawmakers at a Senate finance committee hearing.
Trump’s announcement of the sweeping tariffs earlier this month unnerved and infuriated longstanding allies, many of whom had threatened harsh retaliatory actions against U.S. products. The president initially announced that he would exempt Canada and Mexico from the 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent duty on aluminum. But while Trump previously hinted that other close allies might be given a pass, he offered no criteria for how those decisions would be made.
Lighthizer, however, told senators on Thursday that Trump agreed, “based on a certain set of criteria, that some countries should get out,” and that those are the countries the U.S. has been negotiating with.
Lighthizer confirmed the exemptions after Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), ranking member of the committee, pushed for the administration’s trade chief to provide clarity on the exemptions process.
“Everybody here wants to be part of the consultation process — we haven’t had much recently,” Wyden said. “Which countries — because it’s going to happen tomorrow — will not have these steel and aluminum tariffs applied to them?”
“It’s the list that I just gave,” Lighthizer responded.
Lighthizer and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross have been taking the lead in the administration’s talks with various countries that are seeking exemptions from the steel and aluminum tariffs. The U.S. imports the majority of its steel from Canada, Brazil, South Korea and Mexico, but all told it imports steel and aluminum from roughly 50 countries.
“Many countries are calling to negotiate better trade deals so they don’t have to pay the tariffs,” Trump said Thursday during a signing ceremony for unrelated trade restrictions against China that hit back against Beijing’s intellectual property practices — long a major complaint among U.S. technology companies.
Trump will make the final call on which countries will be excluded from the steel and aluminum tariffs. A formal announcement has not been made, but the president emphasized Thursday that the U.S. will continue to seek a renegotiated NAFTA that better serves American interests along with updates to its free-trade agreement with South Korea, which he called “one-sided.” Those statements were seemingly an effort by Trump to use the tariff exemptions to put pressure on Canada, Mexico and South Korea at the bargaining table.
Trump also took a shot at the European Union, accusing it of using its trade policies to put the squeeze on the U.S. He said U.S. officials are “just starting a negotiation with the European Union, because they shut out our country to a large extent.” He did not offer an update on how those talks have progressed.
“I believe in many cases, maybe in all cases, we will end up negotiating a deal,” Trump said, without offering more details.
Ross and European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström met earlier this week to discuss the steel and aluminum tariffs and agreed to launch talks on matters of U.S.-EU cooperation in trade policy.
Ross told the House ways and means committee on Thursday morning that the U.S. has had very good discussions with the EU. He said the administration hopes that the steel and aluminum tariffs will spur “collective action on the part of the world community to deal with the ultimate problem, which is the overcapacity, particularly in China, but not exclusively in China.”
Ross pointed out that the European Union, though a trade ally of the U.S., also contributes to the problem of global overcapacity.
“We think the EU, in a whole variety of different ways, is part of the problem,” Ross said. “Steel that comes in the form of an automobile from Germany is every bit as much of a problem as steel that comes in as steel.”