WASHINGTON • The US Commerce Department is wrestling with a flood of requests to exclude products from steel and aluminium import tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump, creating a backlog that has sparked calls for action from lawmakers and trade groups.
The Commerce Department said it has already boosted staff numbers, and wants approval from Congress to use more of its budgeted funds to help solve the problem.
Mr Trump imposed the tariffs on March 23 on grounds that the imports pose a threat to national security, and he must decide by today whether to extend temporary exemptions to Canada, Mexico, the European Union and others.
The administration plans to extend relief to some countries, but not all, said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
So far, South Korea is the only nation to be spared the duties, though others, including France and Germany, have pushed to be excluded.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Mr Trump discussed trade with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel when they were in Washington last week, but has not yet decided on exemptions for any European countries.
3,500 Number of exclusion requests that have yet to be reviewed, while about 550 had been processed as of last Friday.
EU prepared for US trade tariffs as temporary relief set to expire
BRUSSELS • The European Union yesterday said it was "prepared" for US President Donald Trump imposing controversial tariffs on steel and aluminium from the bloc, as a deadline looms amid growing fears of all-out trade war.
The EU's top trade official Cecilia Malmstrom was slated to hold last-ditch talks with United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross yesterday but hopes for winning a permanent exemption were slim.
Mr Trump granted the EU temporary relief from the 25 per cent steel and 10 per cent aluminium duties, but this expires today and cannot be renewed.
Europe has lined up its own punitive tariffs on American imports including iconic items such as Harley-Davidson motorbikes, blue jeans and bourbon whiskey.
European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said contacts were under way with Washington "at all levels" to try to head off a tariff tit-for-tat, but warned the EU was ready to act, saying Brussels officials would even work on today's public holiday to tackle the issue. "We are patient, we are prepared and Labour Day will be full of labour for us," he said.
The EU's three largest economies - Germany, Britain and France - held crisis talks on Sunday. Paris said afterwards they had agreed "the EU must be ready to act" if Washington presses ahead with the tariffs.
The Trump administration has justified the tariffs on national security grounds.
"Of course the issues came up and the President has not made any decision yet," Mr Mnuchin said during an interview that aired on Fox Business Network yesterday.
"The President gave us time to address these issues and the President is going to make a decision," Mr Mnuchin said. "I expect that there will be a decision quickly."
Mr Ross said the decision will be announced right before the deadline today.
According to the Commerce Department, some 3,500 exclusion requests have yet to be reviewed, while about 550 had been processed as of last Friday.
Mr Ross said he understands the concerns of businesses, and that the department "is making an unprecedented effort to process the requests expeditiously".
Companies are asking for relief from 25 per cent tariffs on steel imports and 10 per cent on aluminium.
The goods in the exclusion requests posted so far range from automotive components and specialised steel products used by manufacturers, to piano wire and stainless-steel fish hooks.
The Commerce Department said almost all of the exclusion submissions yet to be reviewed were received within the last 12 days, and that a third of the requests have come from just 10 firms. One company submitted 1,167 requests.
Many companies also did not file a separate request for each product, as required, and 930 initial applications had to be rejected for technical reasons and refiled.
The number of staff handling the requests and helping companies to submit their forms has been expanded to 19 from six, and Mr Ross has asked Congress to reprogramme US$3.3 million (S$4.4 million) in its budget to help deal with exclusion requests, the department said.
Many companies are asking for exemptions specifically because they cannot procure the amount of raw material they need from US producers, according to filings.
Separately, Mr Trump had proposed tariffs on US$150 million worth of Chinese goods in response to the theft of intellectual property, prompting threats of retaliation from China.
Mr Mnuchin leads a delegation this week to China for talks on what the US sees as Beijing's unfair trading practices.
"President Trump has been very clear for the last year that he's very focused on the trade deficit and we're looking to correct that," Mr Mnuchin said in the Fox Business interview.