On Saturday, Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko asked for Japan to be exempted from U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum.
“Japanese exports of steel and aluminum have no impact on U.S. national security, and contribute greatly to U.S. employment and economic growth,” Seko said at a press conference after a meeting in Brussels with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
Seko said he told Lighthizer of Japan’s concerns that the tariffs could take a toll on the system of multilateral trade and disrupt the world’s steel and aluminum markets.
He said Lighthizer did not give a specific answer to the request for Japan to be exempted, but did explain the timeline and procedures for the new tariffs.
Separately, Seko met EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, telling her the European Union should think carefully about engaging in a tit-for-tat tariff battle with the United States.
“Taking retaliatory measures won’t work in the interest of any country,” he said at the press conference.
Senior EU officials including Malmstrom have said the union might take retaliatory action against the United States. Trump, in turn, has threatened to impose a tax on European cars if tariffs are raised on American goods.
Seko said the European Union should “act calmly and not lose sight of the big picture.”
He called for dialogue based on the rules of the World Trade Organization in order to avoid a descent into a trade war.
Trump expressed his dissatisfaction with U.S. trade deficits with Japan and the European Union in Twitter posts Saturday, though he did not specifically refer to steel trade with Japan.
“Currently (the United States) have a massive $100 billion trade deficit (with Japan). Not fair or sustainable. It will all work out,” Trump said.
Trump said he has discussed with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe “opening up Japan to much better trade” with the United States, in likely reference to their talks on the phone Friday Japan time.
“The European Union, wonderful countries who treat the U.S. very badly on trade, are complaining about the tariffs on steel and aluminum. If they drop their horrific barriers and tariffs on U.S. products going in, we will likewise drop ours,” Trump wrote.
In Brussels, the three officials also held a trilateral meeting, on the basis of which Seko said they are considering jointly filing a WTO suit against a third country’s measures distorting trade.
A U.S. Commerce Department report released in February said the quantities and circumstances of steel and aluminum imports “threaten to impair the national security,” citing excessive imports and global production overcapacity driven partly by Chinese government subsidies.
The new tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports applied to all trading partners except Canada and Mexico when Trump signed off on them Thursday.
Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull agreed Friday that Australia will also be given an exemption, although the details are yet to be worked out.
Trump has also agreed in a phone call with Argentine President Mauricio Macri to consider Argentina’s request for an exemption, the Argentine government said.