WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - The United States opened the way for more exemptions from its steel and aluminum tariffs on Friday, after pressure from allies and intense lobbying from lawmakers, further diluting the measures just a day after they were formally announced.
President Donald Trump, who has broad powers to impose the tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum, had already granted exemptions to Canada and Mexico, and has said there would be the possibility of industry exemptions, although he has not spelled that out.
After Trump opened the door, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, Australia and Europe clamored for special treatment, although Chinese producers called on Beijing to retaliate in kind.
“The president can do exemptions and my expectation is there may be some other countries that he considers in the next two weeks,” Mnuchin said in an interview with broadcaster CNBC on Friday.
When Trump’s tariffs were initially announced, stockmarkets went into a tail spin on concerns they would ignite a global trade war. Reaction has however been measured and counter threats have been carefully calibrated so far.
Those threats have been overblown, according to Dani Rodrik, Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, who is one of the world’s leading experts on trade.
“The reality is that Trump’s trade measures to date amount to small potatoes. In particular, they pale in comparison to the scale and scope of the protectionist policies of President Ronald Reagan’s administration in the 1980s,” Rodrik wrote on Friday.
(U.S. steel products imports: tmsnrt.rs/2oPeo1z)
(How would Trump’s tariff affect the cost of the Boeing 737: tmsnrt.rs/2oPA3Xf)
Tokyo and Brussels rejected any suggestion that their exports to the United States threatened its national security - Trump’s justification for imposing the tariffs despite warnings at home and abroad that they could provoke a global trade war.
“We are an ally, not a threat,” European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen said.
China’s metals industry issued the country’s most explicit threat yet in the row, urging the government to retaliate by targeting U.S. coal - a sector that is central to Trump’s political base and his election pledge to restore American industries and blue-collar jobs.
Brazil, which after Canada is the biggest steel supplier to the U.S. market, said it wanted to join the exemption list and Argentina made a similar case.
Japan, the United States’ top economic and military ally in Asia, was next in line. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that Japan’s steel and aluminum shipments posed no threat to U.S. national security.
The European Union, the world’s biggest trade bloc, chimed in. “Europe is certainly not a threat to American internal security so we expect to be excluded,” European trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in Brussels.
Malmstrom told reporters the EU was ready to complain to the World