President Donald Trump has left the door ajar for other allies, after granting Mexico and Canada exemptions from the steel and aluminium tariffs.
The levies of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium will take effect from March 23.
US President @realDonaldTrump: Today I’m defending America’s national security by placing a 25 per cent tariff on foreign steel and a 10 per cent tariff on foreign aluminium.
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) March 8, 2018
President Donald Trump signed off on the tariffs in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, surrounded by steel and aluminium workers.
“I’m delivering on a promise I made during the campaign,” he said.
“A strong steel and aluminium industry are vital to our national security… You don’t have steel, you don’t have a country.”
NAFTA partners exempt for now
Canada and Mexico have been offered an exemption from the new tariffs, at least until the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is renegotiated.
The three countries are struggling to agree to terms on the modernised treaty, with only six of NAFTA’s 30 chapters being concluded over seven rounds of talks.
And if the US doesn’t get its way, Trump has indicated he will rescind the exemption. Canada is far and away the biggest exporter of steel to the US.
The President has also said he is open to granting further exemptions to US allies, as long as their products “no longer threaten our security”.
“If the same goals can be accomplished by other means, America will remain open to modifying or removing the tariffs for individual nations, as long as we can agree on a way to ensure that their products no longer threaten our security,” Trump said.
“We’re going to show great flexibility,” he added.
Further exceptions will depend on whether countries can convince Trump that there’s a “satisfactory alternative means” for resolving trade inequities, said an administration official.
Australia holding out hope it could be next
The President singled out Australia as an ally, when talking to reporters about further potential exemptions.
“We have a very close relationship with Australia, we have a trade surplus with Australia, great country long term partner we’ll be doing something with them,” he said.
Prior to this latest development, the Turnbull government had been blindsided by Trump’s ‘no exemptions’ statement last week, with sources claiming the Australian delegation at the G20 summit in Hamburg were “absolutely certain” a deal had been made with the President that would see Australia given special dispensation.
The government representatives reportedly then instructed ambassador Joe Hockey to follow it up with the Trump administration in Washington and get it in writing.
In response to the apparent communication break-down, Turnbull and Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe were preparing to make a joint stand against Trump’s plan, leveraging their positions as key military allies.
Ambassador Greg Norman
Former golf champion and successful businessman Greg Norman has taken it upon himself to help sway President Trump to exclude Australia from the impending tariffs.
Norman, a close friend of the President’s, has co-signed a petition addressed to Trump, which requests exemption from the levies.
US-based Australian corporate heavyweights Robert Thomson (News Corp CEO) and Andrew Liveris (Dow Chemical boss) have also added their weight.
The move has been endorsed by Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop.
“We’re calling in all contacts at every level. This is a very important matter for Australia, it’s also a very important principle,” she told the ABC‘s AM program.
“We’re making contacts at every level throughout the administration, including business representatives, to make our case.”
Social media users, on the other hand, have seen the funny side of Norman’s appointment as unofficial ambassador.
I see Greg Norman is involved with negotiations with Trump on Steel trade deals. I assume they’ll get to a very strong bargaining position after 3 days then on 4th day Nick Faldo will come along with a stronger position and the whole thing fall apart
— Frank Lloyd Amirite (@Gloria_Soames) March 8, 2018
Donald Trump: Hey Greg Norman, if you sink this putt, I won't put tariffs on Australian steel
Greg Norman: no worries mate pic.twitter.com/CAGzundfZ5
— 🌎 Tim Beshara 🌱 (@Tim_Beshara) March 9, 2018
So we are relying on Greg Norman to prevent USA from imposing a blanket 25% tariff on steel. In other news, Kylie Minogue will negotiate visa restrictions #Auspol
— Belinda Barnet (@manjusrii) March 8, 2018
Greg Norman. The golfer. God, this is so embarrassing for everyone involved. https://t.co/LxrQjuKrFJ
— Chloe Angyal (@ChloeAngyal) March 8, 2018
Greg Norman is negotiating trade tariff exemptions and Dennis Rodman is paving the path to world peace. Yup. All completely normal.
— Matt Clemow (@clemow_matt) March 9, 2018