fb-pixel Skip to main content

BRUSSELS — The Trump administration’s rollout of new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports has left countries confused about whether they can win exemptions, but Australia seems to have accomplished it with a phone call from the country’s prime minister to President Trump.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in South Australia on Saturday that he was ‘‘very pleased the president was able to confirm that he would not have to impose tariffs on Australian steel and aluminum.’’

Trump last exempted Canada and Mexico from the duties — 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum — and said US allies would have 15 days to negotiate possible exemptions.


That triggered a diplomatic push from Australia, including a letter to Trump signed by business leaders and former Australian golfing great Greg Norman, a Trump supporter and friend, the Associated Press reported.

After a telephone call with Turnbull on Friday, Trump posted a Twitter message saying that Turnbull “is committed to having a very fair and reciprocal military and trade relationship.’’

‘‘Working very quickly on a security agreement so we don’t have to impose steel or aluminum tariffs on our ally, the great nation of Australia,’’ Trump said

Turnbull said Australia had ‘‘the closest possible military and security alliance with the United States and it gets closer all of the time.’’

It buys about 60 percent of its military assets from the United States, allows Marines to rotate through Darwin every year, and swaps intelligence with Washington.

In Brussels on Saturday, US trade representative Robert Lighthizer met with his European Union and Japanese counterparts, but the meeting offered little new clarity amid fears of a global trade war.

The meeting, which was planned before Trump’s Thursday trade announcement, was Europe and Japan’s first chance to press their case for an exemption to the tariffs. Trump said Thursday that countries with a ‘‘security relationship’’ with the United States could ask to be excluded.


But the Saturday meetings in Brussels, the capital of the European Union, appeared to be inconclusive.

‘‘I had a frank discussion with the US side about the serious pending issue of steel/aluminum tariffs,’’ the top EU trade official, Cecilia Malmström, wrote on Twitter after the meeting.

‘‘As a close security and trade partner of the US, the EU must be excluded from the announced measures,’’ Malmström said. “No immediate clarity on the exact US procedure for exemption however, so discussions will continue next week.’’

Lighthizer made no public comment after the meetings with Malmström and Japanese Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko, which lasted several hours.

The 28-nation European Union, which negotiates trade policy as a bloc, has warned it will challenge the tariffs at the World Trade Organization.

The EU is also readying a list of countermeasures targeting about $3.5 billion in annual trade. Many of the measures would raise tariffs on US products from politically-sensitive areas, such as the home districts of congressional leaders, and range from motorcycles to bourbon to peanut butter.

It remains unclear how hard it would be for the European Union to win an exemption.

After exempting Canada and Mexico, Trump appeared to add Australia to the list Friday, which led to Turnbull’s announcement.

Trump cited national security concerns as the legal basis for the tariffs, a permissible reason under WTO rules.


But EU leaders, most of whom are also NATO allies, say the argument is illegitimate because even during crisis they could still be expected to be reliable sources of the materials. Instead, they said, Trump is bolstering domestic industries in violation of international trade rules.

Some European policymakers said they worried the tariffs were part of a broader assault by the Trump administration on ties between Europe and Washington, which has been the backbone of the post-World War II Western order.

The United States was ‘‘the steward, the leader, of establishing, of developing a system of international relations,’’ Norbert Röttgen, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel who is the head of the foreign affairs committee of the lower house of Germany’s parliament, said at a conference in Brussels. ‘‘Now we have a different approach.’’

‘‘We are living in historic times of unraveling,’’ he said.

Turnbull said Saturday that Australia and the United States have a fair and reciprocal trade relationship. ‘‘It’s a level playing field and, in fact, the U.S. has a large trade surplus with Australia,’’ he said