Australia expects waiver of new U.S. tariffs after Trump-Turnbull phone call

Australia expects waiver of new U.S. tariffs after Trump-Turnbull phone call

SYDNEY-Australia on Saturday disputed U.S. President Donald Trump's apparent assertion the day before that the country being exempted from planned U.S. tariffs on aluminum and steel imports would be conditional on a new security agreement.

Initially, only Mexico and Canada were exempt from paying the steep tariffs during negotiations over the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA), but the president's latest tweets seem to suggest Australia will also be exempt.

"I was very pleased the President was able to confirm that he would not have to impose tariffs on Australian steel and aluminium", Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters on Saturday.

"As a country with a high reliance on trade, the risks of broader damage to the global economy from a trade war are great", Mr Willox said.

Turnbull soon replied with his own tweet, saying Australia had "no closer ally" than the US.

But it was not all good news, with Australian Industry Group Chief Executive Innes Willox warning the U.S. tariffs could still hurt Australian companies.

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Australia has been hopeful of wrapping up a deal to avoid the tariffs announced by Mr Trump on Friday, which are due to come into force in a fortnight.

Australian steel and aluminium account for just a small percentage of the U.S. import market, but Canberra has warned the tariffs would distort trade and lead to job losses.

Mr Turnbull's flying visit to Washington along with months of lobbying - including from Mr Trump's friend, former Australian golfer Greg Norman - is thought to have tipped the balance. "It's a level playing field and, in fact, the United States has a large trade surplus with Australia".

The the world's largest importer of steel, importing almost four times as much as it exports, according to the White House.

But Australian Industry Group Chief Executive Innes Willox said the tariff announcement would still hurt companies even if an exemption was granted.

The decision has been made following negotiations held between the United States and Australia on the matter.