It looks like Australia will avoid the full force of Trump’s new steel tariffs

US President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (L). Getty Images

  • Trump confirms there will be exemptions on his new steel tariffs for some countries, and singles out Australia as a likely beneficiary.
  • The US President signed the tariffs, which some fear could draw retaliatory measures for other countries and lead to a trade war, into law in Washington D.C. and they will come into effect over the coming month.
  • Including exemptions for key allies is a softening of the administration’s previous indications that the rules would apply uniformly.

US President Donald Trump has given a strong indication Australia will secure exemptions from the steel and aluminium import tariffs he announced today in Washington.

At a White House press conference where he signed of the tariff orders, Trump confirmed he was open to modifying or removing tariffs for individual countries, contrary to indications from senior administration officials who said last week that the tariffs — a 25% duty on steel imports and 10% on aluminium — would be across-the-board.

Trump said it would be “very fair to other countries, especially those who treat us well” after saying earlier that the administration would be “doing something with” Australia.

“Some of the partners we are dealing with are great partners, great military allies, and we’re going to be looking at that very strongly. The tariffs don’t go effective for at least 15 days and we’re going to see who’s treating us fairly, who’s not treating us fairly,” Trump said.

Hours before the press conference announcing the tariffs, Trump said: “We have a very close relationship with Australia. We have a trade surplus with Australia, great country, long term partner, we’ll be doing something with them.”

With the tariffs chiefly aimed at the dumping of Chinese steel into the US market, Trump confirmed Canada and Mexico would be exempt while the North American Free Trade Agreement is under renegotiation.

The signal that Australia will get favourable treatment under the regime will be a relief to Malcolm Turnbull and the federal government. Australian steel exports to the US are less than 0.1% of GDP but the prospect of local exporters losing the US market was a source of concern.

After Trump announced his tariffs last week ministers were unable to say if Australia would secure exemptions from the tariffs as it did under the previous steel import duties imposed by the Bush administration in 2002.

Trump’s confirmation that there is room from exemptions is a significant weakening of the administration’s position on the weekend. White House trade advisor said in a heated TV interview that exemptions would complicate the process.

“As soon as he starts exempting countries, he has to raise the tariff on everybody else,” Navarro said.