US offering relief for help in pressuring Beijing: Official

WASHINGTON • The Trump administration is pressing countries to align themselves with the US in pushing back against Chinese trade policies, in exchange for relief from American tariffs on steel and aluminium, according to a European official.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has been leading negotiations under which countries may be excluded from the tariffs of 25 per cent on imported steel and 10 per cent on aluminium.

American trading partners and US companies are pressing for exemptions and exclusions from the tariffs, which take effect on Friday.

In talks with the United States, Mr Lighthizer has laid out five conditions that countries must address before being excluded, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The qualifications are: Limiting steel and aluminium exports to the US to 2017 levels; actively addressing China's various trade-distorting policies; being more assertive and cooperative with the US at the G-20 Global Steel Forum; cooperating with the US in launching cases against Chinese practices at the WTO; enhancing security cooperation with the US.

US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation ordering the tariffs on March 8, invoking a seldom-used legal clause that gives him the authority to impose trade penalties to protect national security. He has also threatened to withdraw exclusions for Canada and Mexico if the two nations do not agree to a new North American Free Trade Agreement that meets US satisfaction.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump has invited any country with which the US has a "security relationship" to apply for an exclusion, setting off a global lobbying effort to secure relief from the tariffs.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said his country has secured an exclusion, while countries from South Korea to Argentina are asking for similar treatment.

The European Union has aggressively pushed back against the US tariffs, threatening retaliation against iconic goods, including motorcycles, jeans and bourbon.

The effort to recruit allies to protest against Beijing's trade policies comes as the Trump administration weighs broad tariffs against products made in China to punish the Chinese government for what the US sees as abuse of American intellectual property.

The US is also considering restrictions on Chinese investments, according to sources.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2018, with the headline 'US offering relief for help in pressuring Beijing: Official'. Print Edition | Subscribe