How big of an economic threat are Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs?

Malcolm Turnbull

Trump said last Thursday that he was slapping tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum. He temporarily exempted big steel producers Canada and Mexico - provided they agree to renegotiate a North American trade deal to his satisfaction.

Eliminating these tariffs was the subject of the negotiations for a free-trade agreement between the European Union and the USA which stalled under Trump, according to Malmstrom. On Monday, he tweeted that Mr Ross would be speaking with European Union representatives about eliminating "large tariffs and barriers" "Not fair to our farmers and manufacturers", he said. "We just want fairness", Mr. Trump said. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said he disagrees with the move, and other congressional Republicans are hoping to block the duties with legislative action. It is clear the U.S.is willing to risk ruffling a few feathers to achieve its goals - the Paris Agreement previous year being one example - but would a trade war with the E.U.be a battle the US can't win? Trump's chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, is resigning, reportedly because of his oppositions to the tariffs.

Mr. Trump hinted at being more lenient toward allies like Canada, Mexico and Australia during a Cabinet meeting last week. "But we are not afraid, we will stand up to the bullies", Malmstrom said, adding that trade has been used "as a scapegoat".

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Overall, the primary metals industry in USA, which is largely steel and aluminum, accounts for just under 0.7 per cent of the economy.

As one after another foreign leader warns of countermeasures against the tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, Trump even dialled up the tone, going on to threaten to impose duties on European cars. "This is a win-win decision", he said in his video message.

However Trump specifically mentioned NAFTA in his press conference announcing the exemptions on March 8.

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The bloc says that it's a close ally of the US and therefore any import levies on national security grounds are unjustified.

The EU has been talking with partners about a legal challenge at the World Trade Organization to Mr Trump's plan and is considering safeguards to prevent steel and aluminium, diverted from the United States, flooding into Europe. Companies that export their metal products to Mexico and Canada were particularly fearful of tariff retaliation by those countries if they are not exempted.

Australia is heavily involved in supporting US-led operations internationally and spends 2 percent of its GDP on defence - more than most allies - much of which is spent on US-made defence equipment. The investigation was set up to determine whether lower aluminium and steel prices from China was a risk to national security via the closure of USA domestic steel and aluminium smelters.

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More surprising may be the outrage in the USA from groups that have traditionally backed the president. But it will hurt firms which export pipes and tubes besides stainless steel, which account for 34 per cent of the steel exports to the US.

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