U.S. President Donald Trump will not apply new steel and aluminium tariffs to the European Union and six other trading partners which are currently negotiating exemptions, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Thursday (22 March).
The news will be welcomed by EU leaders, gathered in Brussels for a 22-23 March summit, where US tariffs were to be high on the agenda.
“The idea that the president has is that, based on a certain set of criteria, some countries should get out,” Lighthizer told a Senate committee hearing.
“There are countries with whom we’re negotiating and the question becomes the obvious one that you think, as a matter of business, how does this work. So what he has decided to do is to pause the imposition of the tariffs with respect to those countries.”
He then listed these as Canada and Mexico, “Europe … Australia … Argentina … Brazil and … (South) Korea”.
Shortly afterwards, Trump signed a presidential memorandum that could impose tariffs on up to $60 billion of imports from China. Under the terms of the memorandum, Trump will target Chinese imports only after a consultation period, a measure that will give industry lobbyists and legislators a chance to water down a proposed target list which runs to 1,300 products.
Trump’s plan to impose 25% tariffs on imports of steel and 10% on imports of aluminium sparked international outcry earlier this month.
European officials were outraged, arguing that the EU is America’s long-standing military alliance with close economic ties and is in no way a threat to national security. Trump had described the dumping of steel and aluminium in the US market as an “assault on our country,” adding that domestic production was vital to national security.
The EU’s Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström was in the US this week for talks on the tariff exemptions, in a bid to avert a trade war.
The European Commission had threatened to retaliate by imposing trade penalties on a long list of American products.
Malmström told the European Parliament last week the Commission was considering three strands of countermeasures, comprising one within the WTO, concerted actions with trade partners, especially those most affected by US tariffs, like Brazil, and a number of immediate safeguard measures that would protect EU jobs.
Parliament unanimously supported her proposals.
The European Union is one of the largest sources of U.S. steel imports. The 28-nation bloc exported 5.3 million metric tons of steel to the U.S. in 2017, second only to Canada.