Australia hoping for exemption after Trump signs off on trade tariffs

Australia hopes to finalise an exemption from new US steel and aluminium tariffs within two weeks, the trade minister says.

Trade Minister Steve Ciobo says he has had initial discussions with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer following Donald Trump's tariff decision, with aim of getting a decision within two weeks.

Mr Lighthizer has been appointed to lead White House talks with countries wishing to be exempted from the new tariffs on steel and aluminium imports into the United States.

"We welcome President Trump singling out Australia and we look forward to working through the process and finalising a positive outcome in the next two weeks," Mr Ciobo told AAP from Chile on Friday.

Meanwhile Australia's peak industry association says exemption from the United States' steel and aluminium tariffs would be a "partial victory" only, with many local companies still likely to be hit by hefty imposts.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the tariff announcement by Mr Trump was disappointing, but Australia could yet secure an exemption despite not being immediately granted one.

Mr Trump said Canada and Mexico would be exempt from a 25 per cent tariff on imported steel and a 10 per cent tariff on aluminium, and indicated a path for what he called "great partners and military allies" to sidestep the imposts.

Trump signs off on US steel and aluminium trade tariffs

"We can take some comfort in the criteria for exclusion being a defence ally without a trade surplus with the USA, a criteria which Australia clearly meets," Mr Willox said on Friday.

"While we hope that Australia will win exemptions from the latest steel and aluminium tariffs, this would be only a partial victory."

Mr Willox said any special treatment afforded to Australia would only apply to shipments coming out of the country, and not to those from Australian companies in third markets.

"There would of course be winners and losers from these particular US tariffs, including Australian manufacturers of products made from steel or aluminium," he added.

"But as a country with a high reliance on trade, the risks of broader damage to the global economy from a trade war are great."

Meanwhile, Mr Willox welcomed Australia's signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and said the US may sign up once it sees the benefits to other members.

Mr Ciobo on Friday signed the 11-country deal, which will eliminate 98 per cent of tariffs in a marketplace worth close to US$14 trillion.

The deal had been in doubt after the US withdrew but was resuscitated in January following lobbying from Japan and Australia.

Mr Willox said the trade agreement would guarantee the free flow of data across borders for service suppliers and investors.

"Worldwide data flows are the railways of the future and as such their value lies not in the country that holds the data but rather in how far that data can stretch across the globe," he said.

"Countries that collaborate and share information and reject isolationism will be the ultimate winners."

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