Australia denies security deal behind US tariff exemption

A manned crane moving steel sheet rolls at Port Kembla in Wollongong, Australia. US President Donald Trump said last Friday that he was working on a security agreement with Australia that would exempt the country from planned tariffs on steel and alu
A manned crane moving steel sheet rolls at Port Kembla in Wollongong, Australia. US President Donald Trump said last Friday that he was working on a security agreement with Australia that would exempt the country from planned tariffs on steel and aluminium imports.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY • Australian Minister for Trade and Investment Steven Ciobo denied that Australia struck a security agreement with the US to get exempted from tariffs on steel and aluminium announced by President Donald Trump.

"Ultimately, we have a very healthy trade and investment relationship with the United States, especially the type that President Trump likes, and off the back of that it's understandable that the President resolved that Australia wouldn't be subject to these tariffs," Mr Ciobo told the ABC's Insiders programme yesterday.

The American President said last Friday that he was working on a security agreement with Australia that would exempt the country from planned tariffs on steel and aluminium imports.

On Saturday, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed that his country would be excluded from the tariffs, saying that "now the legal paperwork - the proclamation process under the executive order - will take its course to put that direction into effect".

Mr Ciobo said he completely disagreed with suggestions that there could be moral pressure on Australia to agree if, for example, Mr Trump asked to conduct freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea.

The US was not asking for anything in return for granting Australia the tariff exclusion, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said yesterday.

"There is no further security arrangement, there was no reciprocal arrangement as a result of the tariff exemption," Ms Bishop told the media in Adelaide.

The government did not advocate a reciprocal tariff imposition and a trade war is in nobody's interest, she added.

Canada, Mexico and Australia have secured exemptions from the steel and aluminium tariffs, though Canada's and Mexico's are conditional on progress being made in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2018, with the headline 'Australia denies security deal behind US tariff exemption'. Print Edition | Subscribe