US may delay steel tariffs for some nations wanting relief

Rusted steel bridge

March 21, 2018 - The Trump administration indicated it could delay imposing steel and aluminum tariffs on some nations while negotiations are taking place for a more permanent exemption, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said.

The USTR office is actively discussing exemptions at the request of the European Union, Australia and Argentina, and similar talks are expected with a “great number” of other nations including Brazil, Lighthizer said during a briefing to the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday. The goal is to wrap up the talks over exemptions by the end of April, Lighthizer said.

“I believe that countries will get out as we come to agreement, that some countries will be in a position where the duties will not apply to them in the course of the negotiation,” he said. “For example Canada and Mexico, but others. So you don’t have a situation where you have the status quo, 25 percent tariff, and then they get out and there’s kind of bump and it changes real commercial relationships.”

However, Lighthizer later added that this is the approach to country exclusions he’s considering, and that tariffs may start as scheduled for some countries seeking relief. President Donald Trump announced the tariffs March 8, and they’re expected to take effect on Friday.

EU Talks

The EU is “immediately” launching discussions with Trump and his administration over trade issues, including steel and aluminum, the countries said in a joint statement on Wednesday. The talks were agreed to by EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross “with a view to identifying mutually acceptable outcomes as rapidly as possible.”

Trump discussed “how the United States and Europe might come together over tariffs” with French President Emmanuel Macron by phone on Wednesday, according to a White House statement.

The EU has aggressively pushed back against the U.S. tariffs, threatening retaliation against iconic goods including motorcycles, jeans and bourbon.

The U.S. plans to impose 25 percent tariffs on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum, though it will exclude Canada and Mexico on the condition they successfully re-negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Lighthizer said that South Korea is in a similar circumstance, as the two countries work to “refurbish” their own bilateral trade pact.

The U.S. and South Korea are working through the “last few issues,” Lighthizer said the House committee meeting on Wednesday, adding he’s hopeful they will come up with “amendments to the agreement” that will be supported by U.S. lawmakers.

Source: Bloomburg