WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Certain exemptions could be made to the tariffs on foreign steel and aluminium announced by President Donald Trump but exclusions for entire countries are not expected, the top White House trade adviser said.
“There’s a difference between exemptions and country exclusions,” Mr Peter Navarro, director of the National Trade Council at the White House, said on Sunday (March 4) on CNN’s “State of the Union" programme.
“There’ll be an exemption procedure for particular cases where you need to have exemptions so that business can move forward, but at this point in time, there’ll be no country exclusions," Mr Navarro said.
He did not specify under what circumstances exemptions may be considered.
Mr Trump is expected to sign a formal order for the tariffs in the coming week, or the week after that at the latest, after all legalities are finalised, Mr Navarro said.
He defended the president's decision to set levies of 25 per cent on imported steel and 10 per cent on aluminium, a move that rocked financial markets and which critics say threatens US jobs and ignites the possibility of a global trade war.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in an interview with ABC's "This Week" programme that Mr Trump has spoken to world leaders about his planned tariff hikes and is not considering any exemptions to the measure.
“The decision obviously is his, but as of the moment as far as I know he’s talking about a fairly broad brush. I have not heard him describe particular exemptions just yet," Mr Ross said.
Mr Ross, who blanketed the airwaves last Friday to defend the tariffs, continued to press on Mr Trump’s behalf and to downplay the possible impact of the move on US consumer prices and jobs. He said the total amount of tariffs the US government is proposing is about US$9 billion (S$12 billion) a year, a fraction of 1 per cent of the economy.
“So the notion that it would destroy a lot of jobs, raise prices, disrupt things, is wrong,” Mr Ross said.
“We’re talking about a fraction of a penny" on the impact on American consumers, Mr Ross said on NBC’s “Meet the Press" programme. “Retaliation isn’t going to change the price on a can of beer.”
The tariffs are part of Mr Trump’s plan to counter what he says are decades of unfair trade practices and ill-advised trade agreements that have robbed the US of revenue and jobs. During his first year as president, Mr Trump withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership and threatened to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada unless changes are made.
“Our jobs and wealth are being given to other countries that have taken advantage of us for years,” Mr Trump said on Saturday on Twitter. “They laugh at what fools our leaders have been. No more!”
Some free-trade proponents have been hoping that Mr Trump will reverse himself, much as the president has done in regard to past issues such as gun control and keeping US troops in Afghanistan. But the media stops by Mr Ross and Mr Navarro suggest the president plans to press ahead despite opposition from close allies, fellow Republicans, and even some members of his administration, including Mr Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council.
‘UP TO GARY’
Responding to a question on whether Mr Cohn might quit in response to the tariff decision, Mr Navarro said it is “up to Gary whether he goes or stays".
Already-volatile markets swooned after Mr Trump announced the tariffs, with the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 Index falling more than 1.3 per cent that day. Foreign officials threatened retaliation, including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who said the bloc would target imports of iconic US merchandise such as Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Levi Strauss jeans.
Mr Trump remains undeterred so far. In a tweet last Friday morning, the president wrote that “trade wars are good and easy to win".