US to extend tariff relief to some allies, not all: Commerce Secretary

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross declined to identify which nations would be spared from the tariffs.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross declined to identify which nations would be spared from the tariffs. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The Trump administration plans to extend relief from steel and aluminium tariffs to some countries, but not all, when their temporary exemptions expire on Tuesday (May 1), said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Ross, in an interview in Washington late Saturday (April 28), declined to identify which nations would be spared from the tariffs.

He said the announcement will be made right before the May 1 deadline for the duties to kick in. The secretary indicated on Friday that nations have been asked to accept import quotas in return for tariff-free access of the metals into the US.

The steel and aluminium tariffs are fuelling tensions with some of America's strongest allies, just as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin leads a delegation this week to China for talks on what the US sees as Beijing's unfair trading practices.

Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on as much as US$150 billion (S$198 billion) of Chinese goods if negotiations fail to yield progress, a move China that has said would provoke retaliation against key American imports.

The European Union last week asked to join a case, starting with consultations, that was initiated by China at the World Trade Organisation over the US steel and aluminium tariffs.


President Donald Trump used his broad powers under a little-used trade law to impose the 25 per cent tariffs on steel and 10 per cent on aluminium after a study by his administration found the imports threaten national security.

But Trump walked back from an earlier no-exemptions stance to give Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Mexico and South Korea a temporary reprieve when the tariffs took effect in March, and directed US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to handle negotiations with countries seeking exemptions.

So far, South Korea is the only nation to be spared from the duties after reaching a deal to revise its bilateral free trade agreement with the US, which was already under way.

To avoid the steel tariff, South Korea agreed to limit US shipments of the metal to about 2.7 million tons a year, the ministry said. The country also agreed to double to 50,000 the number of US cars that could be imported without meeting local safety standards.


The European Union has been among the most vocal critics of the tariffs, saying that it doesn't make sense for the US to target steel and aluminium shipments of its defence partners in the name of national security risk. The EU has also said it's prepared to apply retaliatory tariffs on US$3.5 billion of imports from the US, ranging from orange juice to blue jeans.

British Prime Minister Theresa May discussed the "impact" of the US tariffs and the "vital importance" of each country's steel and aluminium industries with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during separate phone calls this weekend.

The leaders agreed to work with the rest of the European Union and the Trump administration to secure permanent exemptions, according to a readout from May's office.

Macron and Merkel visited Washington separately last week, appealing directly to Trump for exemptions for the EU bloc, but failed to win any public guarantees.

Canada and Mexico, meanwhile, have rejected Trump's suggestion of linking the discussions over metals tariffs to securing the US better terms in a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement. All three nations are expected to resume talks over updating Nafta on May 7, after Lighthizer returns from the trip to China with Mnuchin.