Trump says Australia could be exempt from steel, aluminum tariffs

Malcolm Turnbull has used a business summit to stress the benefits of cutting corporate tax

Opening a new front in the global battle to fight the tariff rise, Mr Turnbull said hiking prices on Australian steel would make it more expensive to build houses in the US.

Australian media is accusing President Donald Trump of "reneging" on a promise he reportedly made to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull previous year.

Mr Turnbull recently visited Washington in a bid to encourage trade, but Australia is not exempt from U.S. plans to impose a global 25 per cent tariff on steel imports and a 10 per cent tariff on aluminium imports.

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

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.

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Any exemptions would ultimately be a decision for Trump, Ciobo said.

However, it is unclear what any new agreement would look like given the United States is already Australia's closest defence ally, and the level of cooperation between the two defence forces.

USA trading partners were on Friday given a 15-day window to negotiate exemptions to the tariffs, due to come into effect in a fortnight.

Meanwhile, Mr Willox welcomed Australia's signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and said the USA may sign up once it sees the benefits to other members.

He said the threat of Australia sustaining collateral damage in a trade war also remained real.

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

Trade minister Steve Ciobo on Friday signed the 11-country deal, which will eliminate 98 per cent of tariffs in a marketplace worth close to $US14 trillion.

"As an export nation our economy is best served by a rules-based free and fair trading environment".

He disagreed with Mr Trump's belief that trade wars are good.

"History tells us they are bad, and they end up causing not just a contraction in the global trade but, as a result of that, a contraction in global growth", he told the ABC.

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