White House defends tariffs that some nations may still escape

President Donald Trump’s economic advisers defended US plans to impose steel tariffs while leaving the door open for exempting some countries and downplaying the fallout of a possible trade war.

The president plans to sign orders for the new steel and aluminium tariffs at 3.30pm Thursday, a White House official said.

“We are the freest trader in the world, hands down,” White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told Bloomberg TV on Wednesday. “All we get for that is a half a trillion dollar a year trade deficit that offshores our wealth, offshores our jobs.” America’s trading partners are “getting the better part of the deal,” and have no incentive to get into “any conflict.”

The US may exempt countries from the duties based on national security considerations, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Wednesday. She didn’t elaborate on how those determinations would be made and didn’t answer when asked which countries would qualify.

“There are potential carve outs for Canada and Mexico based on national security and possibly other countries as well. That would be a case-by-case and country-by-country basis,” Sanders told reporters at the White House.

Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop is among those making the case for exemption, citing her nation’s status as a “close ally and partner.” “Raising tariffs leads to “a race to the bottom,” she said in a Sky News interview on Thursday. “What we want to see is a continuation of US leadership on open, liberalized trade and investment.”

China’s foreign minister Wang Yi vowed a “justified and necessary response” to any efforts to incite a trade war, saying it would hurt both the actor as well as the intended target. Wang, speaking at a news briefing on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress in Beijing Thursday, urged the US to work with China on a mutually beneficial solution.

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