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US trade chief: EU, Brazil, Korea, Argentina exempt from steel, aluminum tariffs

Australia, Argentina, Brazil, South Korea and the European Union have joined Canada and Mexico as being temporarily exempt from President Donald Trump's sweeping steel and aluminum tariffs one day before they were set to go into effect, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer confirmed March 22.

Speaking before the Senate Finance Committee, Lighthizer said those countries will not be subject to the tariffs when they go into effect March 23 as he continues talks with their trade representatives.

"The president has decided to pause the imposition of the tariffs with respect to those countries," Lighthizer said.

Lighthizer told the House Ways and Means Committee on March 21 that he was conducting talks with Argentina, Australia and the European Union, adding that he was beginning talks with Brazil "soon" to consider their exemptions from the tariffs, which have sparked an outcry from much of the global trading market.

The inclusion of the EU on the exemption list could bring some relief to American producers. The EU previously threatened retaliatory tariffs of 25% on certain U.S. exports, including peanut butter, shirts, Levi Strauss & Co. jeans and Harley-Davidson Inc. motorcycles.

The trade representative's office is responsible for conducting the negotiations for countries seeking exemption from the steel and aluminum tariffs, while the U.S. Commerce Department is responsible for fielding exemption requests from companies, individuals and organizations that use steel or aluminum products covered under the proclamations.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said at a separate hearing March 22 that companies or individuals must use the imported steel or aluminum in business activities in the U.S. to be granted an exemption. The department began accepting exemption requests March 19.

Ross, who testified before the Ways and Means committee, said at the hearing that his department has already gotten a "hundred or two hundred" exemption inquiries, adding that determinations on whether to exempt or deny will be made public on a rolling basis. The U.S. has had "very constructive" discussions with the U.K. and EU on the steel and aluminum tariffs, he said.

Trump, who imposed the 25% tariff on U.S. steel imports and 10% tariff on aluminum imports March 8 on the grounds of national security, already said Canada and Mexico would receive a temporary exemption as the three countries rework the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Lighthizer said South Korea was included because the U.S. and the Asian nation are currently reworking the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement.