President Donald Trump today said he would be "fair and flexible" toward "real friends" of the US while imposing punitive trade tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum as he indicated that Mexico, Canada, Australia and "others" could be exempt.
In a Cabinet meeting, Trump made clear that he was pressing with tariffs of 25 per cent on foreign steel and 10 per cent on aluminum and said Australia and "others" could be exempt -- in addition to NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada.
Mexico and Canada are expected to get temporary relief because of the ongoing negotiations in North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Trump's plan for stiff and sweeping steel and aluminium import tariffs would face retaliation from America's top trading partners, the European Union and China.
"We have to do to protect our steel or aluminum in our country," Trump told his Cabinet members in the presence of White House reporters.
"We are going to be very fair. We are going to be very flexible. We have to protect the American worker, as I said I would do during my campaigns,” he said.
Responding to a question, Trump said the US is negotiating NAFTA with Mexico and Canada, which will be exempted from the steel and aluminum tariff.
“If we reach a deal, its most likely that won't be charging those two countries,” he said.
Trump reiterated that the tariff would be 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum.
"I'll have a right to go up or down. I'll have a right to drop out countries. We just want fairness because we have not been treated fairly by other countries,” he said.
"We have a very close relationship with Australia. We have a trade surplus with Australia. A great country, a country long term partner will be doing something with them. We'll be doing something with some other countries,” Trump said.
“We will be very flexible. At the same time, we have some friends and some enemies where we have been tremendously taken advantage of over the years on trade and on military,” he said as he singled out Germany as a bad actor likely to face tariffs.
Trump accused Germany of behaving unfairly by contributing much less than the US towards the funding of NATO.
"If you look at NATO where Germany pays one percent and we're paying 4.2 per cent of a much bigger GDP. Not fair,” he said.
Referring to NAFTA negotiating with Mexico and Canada, he said: “I think we are doing quite well.”
Trump said the US has to take steps to protect and build its steel and aluminium industries
"We have to protect & build our Steel and Aluminium Industries while at the same time showing great flexibility and cooperation toward those that are real friends and treat us fairly on both trade and the military," he tweeted earlier.
On March 1, Trump had announced that he would impose 25 per cent import tariff on steel and 10 per cent on aluminium to protect US producers, a move that invited criticism from China and the Europe which said it could trigger a trade war.
The American Iron and Steel Institute reported today that steel import permit applications for the month of February totalled 2,428,000 net tonnes (NT).
This was a 21.2 per cent decrease from the 3,081,000 permit tons recorded in January and a 15.6 per cent decrease from the January preliminary imports total of 2,875,000 NT.
In February, the largest finished steel import permit applications for offshore countries were for South Korea (252,000 NT, down 26 per cent from January preliminary), Germany (111,000 NT, up 23 per cent), Japan (110,000 NT, down 22 per cent), China (85,000 NT, up 18 per cent) and Taiwan (68,000 NT, down 42 per cent).
Through the first two months of 2018, the largest offshore suppliers were South Korea (591,000 NT, up three per cent), Japan (251,000 NT, up two per cent) and Germany (201,000 NT, up 50 per cent).
More than 100 Republican lawmakers implored President Trump to drop his plan and urged him to focus on unfair trading policies of China.
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told Fox Business late last night that Trump would sign the executive order later in the day.
The new tariffs would go into effect in 15-30 days, he said.
"The proclamation will have a clause that does not impose these tariffs immediately on Canada and Mexico, and it's going to give us an opportunity and one of the best guys in this administration, Ambassador Robert Lighthizer the opportunity to negotiate a great deal for this country," Navarro said.
Yesterday, 107 Republican members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to the president expressing concern about broad tariffs and calling for him to focus any action on unfair trading partners, like China.
In the letter, Republican lawmakers outlined several recommendations to hold countries accountable without disrupting the flow of fairly traded products that American manufacturers rely on.
The prospect of approaching tariffs has set off furious lobbying from governments around the world, who have tried to sway the administration with offers of friendship and threats of retaliation, The New York Times reported.
Yesterday, the European Union released a list of American-made goods it would penalise if the tariffs went through.
China, which ranks 11 among the largest sources of US steel imports, cautioned that it was prepared to "make an appropriate and necessary response" should the United States impose the tariffs.