U.S. mum as Japan requests tariff exemption

By Yuya Yokobori and Yu Toda / Yomiuri Shimbun CorrespondentsBRUSSELS — Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko pressed U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to exempt Japanese steel and aluminum from new U.S. tariffs during a meeting in Brussels on Saturday, but did not receive any concrete assurances that Japanese products would be spared from the trade restrictions.

At a press conference after the talks, Seko said: “Mr. Lighthizer provided an explanation of the upcoming process and schedule. He did not elaborate on anything else.”

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday ordered that a tariff of 25 percent be slapped on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports from March 23 as an import restriction measure.

“There’s still some time [before the tariffs kick in],” Seko said, indicating that the government planned to continue urging the United States to exempt Japanese steel and aluminum.

Many observers believe Trump’s strategy is to use the tariffs as leverage in trade negotiations. Mexico and Canada have been granted a reprieve from the tariffs for the time being, but the United States plans to apply the tariffs to their steel and aluminum products unless both nations make concessions during the ongoing renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. On Friday, Trump announced on Twitter a plan to exempt Australia from the tariffs, saying that the country is committed to having a very fair and reciprocal military and trade relationship.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri also discussed the import restrictions during a phone conversation with Trump. According to Reuters, Macri sought a waiver for his nation’s steel and aluminum products, and Trump agreed to consider the request.

Trump could severely press Japan to open its markets as he seeks to address the U.S. trade imbalance with Japan. According to the U.S. Commerce Department’s 2017 trade statistics, the U.S. trade deficit with Japan — the value of items exported minus the value of items imported — was $68.8 billion (about ¥7.3 trillion). This is the United States’ third-largest trade deficit, behind those with China and Mexico.

The Japanese government plans to explain to the U.S. side that restricting imports of high-quality Japanese steel could negatively affect U.S. industries and employment because these products are used in oil field development and other industries in the United States. If Japan is unable to convince the United States to offer a total exemption, it will call for individual products to be excluded from the tariffs.

Meanwhile, Seko, Lighthizer and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who heads the body responsible for developing and carrying out the trade policies of the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, also held a trilateral meeting in Brussels on Saturday. They reaffirmed they will consider jointly filing a case at the World Trade Organization over trade issues with China, including its excess production of steel and other products, and regulations that effectively force foreign companies doing business there to transfer technologies to domestic firms.Speech

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