Major Asian nations warn of damage to relations with US

TOKYO • Major Asian countries yesterday hit out at the United States' controversial tariffs on foreign steel and aluminium, warning of damage to relations amid industry calls for retaliation.

Japan said the move would have a big impact on the countries' close bilateral ties, while China said it was resolutely opposed to the decision and South Korea said it may file a complaint to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), reported Reuters.

Indonesia said it is ready to retaliate if the Trump government starts a trade war, reported Antara News.

China, which produces half of the world's steel, will assess any damage caused by the US move and "firmly defend its legitimate rights and interests", the country's Ministry of Commerce said.

Trade tensions between China and the US have risen since Mr Trump took office. China accounts for only a fraction of US steel imports, but its massive industrial expansion has helped create a global glut of steel that has driven prices down.

China's steel and metals associations urged the government to retaliate against the US, citing imports ranging from stainless steel and coal to agricultural products and electronics.

The dispute has fuelled concerns that soya beans, the US' most valuable export to the world's second-largest economy, might be caught up in the trade actions after Beijing launched a probe into imports of US sorghum, a grain used in animal feed and liquor.

"The cost of a trade war will be tremendous, and it will make everyone unhappy," Mr Junichi Makino, chief economist of SMBC Nikko Securities in Tokyo, said in a report yesterday.

Japan and South Korea said they would seek exemptions, as did Australia.

South Korea, the US' third-biggest steel supplier, will consider filing a complaint to the WTO if it is refused an exemption, reported Agence France-Presse.

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sounded confident of getting favourable treatment as Mr Trump spoke of Washington's strong relationship with Canberra.

"I was pleased to see the President acknowledge the strong points I have been making to him. There is no case for imposing tariffs on Australian steel," Mr Turnbull told reporters in Sydney yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2018, with the headline 'Major Asian nations warn of damage to relations with US'. Print Edition | Subscribe