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Commerce Department accepting exemption requests from US steel, aluminum tariffs

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Commerce Department accepting exemption requests from US steel, aluminum tariffs

The U.S. Department of Commerce on March 19 began accepting requests from companies that use imported steel and aluminum to be excluded from President Donald Trump's newly imposed import tariffs.

According to procedures the Commerce Department outlined and published in the Federal Register on March 19, companies will be required to apply separate exclusion requests for each product using the metals that originates outside the U.S., including a "full factual description of the specific product, its properties, and its quantity." The process will also allow U.S. companies whose products could be used instead of imports to file rebuttal objections to any exemptions.

"These procedures will allow the administration to further hone these tariffs to ensure they protect our national security while also minimizing undue impact on downstream American industries," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a news release.

Ross and other officials will conduct the review process, determining whether a product produced in the U.S. is of "satisfactory quality or in a sufficient and reasonably available amount" to warrant rejecting an exemption from the 25% tariff on steel imports and the 10% tariff on aluminum imports. Trump on March 8 signed the tariffs, which are slated to go into effect March 23.

The president implemented the tariffs on the grounds of national security, citing the country's dependence on the two products for military production, as well as for economic security, by attempting to boost domestic production and revitalize closed steel mills and smelters.

Trump, however, said he will consider excluding certain countries from the tariffs, including those that are "friends of ours" on trade. Countries wanting to be excluded from the tariffs must have their trade officials meet individually with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer rather than using the public comment process available to individuals, companies or organizations, Trump said.

The likelihood of the Commerce Department granting such exemptions is unclear. Specifics were lacking from the notice, including whether foreign companies with production facilities in the U.S. are eligible for exclusion.

Trump has already provided temporary exemptions for Canada and Mexico while the North American Free Trade Agreement is being reworked. Should the three countries, which are supposed to meet for the next round of NAFTA talks in mid-April in Washington, come to a new trade deal to Trump's liking, the president said he will make the tariffs exemption permanent.

South Korea's minister of trade, industry and energy, Paik Un-gyu, told reporters he is optimistic that the Asian nation will be removed from the steel tariffs list after Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong continued meetings with Lighthizer in Washington, Yonhap News Agency reported March 19.

Trump tweeted March 10 that the European Union treats the U.S. "very badly" on trade, adding that "if they drop their horrific barriers & tariffs on U.S. products going in, we will likewise drop ours."

The president is also considering exempting Australia. He tweeted March 9 that he and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull are "working very quickly on a security agreement so we don't have to impose steel or aluminum tariffs on our ally, the great nation of Australia!"

The tariffs have sparked concerns from various U.S. industries that fear increased production costs and job losses as well as the possibility of being a target of retaliatory tariffs from trading partners.

Requests for exclusion will be posted for a 30-day comment period on regulations.gov, and the review period typically takes no longer than 90 days before a decision is posted publicly on the website, the department said. No comments had been submitted by late morning March 19.