From Japan and South Korea to Australia and Europe, officials have lined up to seek exemptions from President Donald Trump’s tariffs on US steel and aluminium imports, while Chinese producers called on Beijing to retaliate in kind.
Tokyo and Brussels rejected any suggestion that their exports to the US threatened its national security, which is Trump’s justification for imposing the tariffs despite warnings at home and abroad that they could provoke a global trade war.
Trump signed an order for the 25 per cent tariffs on steel imports and 10 per cent for aluminium at the White House on Thursday to counter cheap imports, especially from China, which he described as “an assault on our country”.
However, he said “real friends” of the US could win waivers from the measures, which come into force after 15 days. In the event he exempted Canada and Mexico, fellow members of the North American Free Trade Agreement which he is trying to renegotiate.
Brazil, which after Canada is the biggest steel supplier to the US market, said it wanted to join the list. Argentina made a similar case.
Japan, the US’ top economic and military ally in Asia, was next in line. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that Japan’s steel and aluminium shipments posed no threat to US national security.
The European Union, the world’s biggest trade bloc, chimed in. “Europe is certainly not a threat to American internal security so we expect to be excluded,” European trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in Brussels.
Malmstrom told reporters the EU was ready to complain to the World Trade Organisation, and retaliate within 90 days. She will meet US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Japanese Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko in Brussels on Saturday when she will ask whether the EU is to be included in the tariffs.
Other officials at the EU, by far the biggest trading partner of the US by value, have warned it could take counter-measures including European tariffs on US oranges, tobacco and bourbon.
Brussels has reminded Trump that tit-for-tat trade measures deepened the Great Depression in the 1930s and in the 2000s cost thousands of US jobs when Washington imposed tariffs on European steel.
In Sydney, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull cited Washington’s strong relationship with Australia, adding: “There is no case for imposing tariffs on Australian steel.”
Trade tensions between Washington and Beijing have risen since Trump took office last year. China accounts for only a small fraction of US steel imports, but its rapid rise to produce half the world’s steel has helped create a global glut that has driven down prices.
Beijing vowed to “firmly defend its legitimate rights and interests”. The tariffs would “seriously impact the normal order of international trade,” the Ministry of Commerce said.
China’s steel and metals associations urged the government to retaliate, citing imports from the US ranging from stainless steel to coal, agricultural products and electronics. It was the most explicit threat yet from the country in the escalating trade row.