Trump Administration Considered Tariffs on Australia – The New York Times

Exempting Australia from tariffs effectively allowed Australian producers to sell cheaper metals to the United States than their competitors from Europe, North America and Asia. Aluminum imports from Australia rose by 45 percent from 2017 to 2018. They are up even more, by 350 percent, for the first three months of 2019, compared with the same period in 2018.

But Australia remains a relatively small supplier of aluminum to the United States, accounting for about 6 percent of total imports so far this year, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Robert Lighthizer, the United States trade representative, and Peter Navarro, the director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, were among the backers of tariffs on Australia. But other senior administration officials, who have cultivated ties to Australia, favor prioritizing other elements of the relationship.

For one thing, Australia has emerged as an important ally — perhaps the most critical one — in helping Washington constrain China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Australian officials have banned the Chinese company Huawei from the country’s online networks, and have investigated the Chinese Communist Party’s influence and interference in Australia. Washington is also relying on Canberra to compete with the Chinese for political clout in the Pacific islands.

Furthermore, a conservative party won a general election last month in an upset, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison intends to enact conservative policies. That means Washington and Canberra are growing even closer, as some American officials find more affinity with their Australian counterparts.

The Australian military has over the years joined important American campaigns. Notably, Australia sent soldiers to Iraq to be part of President George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing,” and to Afghanistan.

Tariffs against Australia could also have broader reverberations, serving as a warning to Canada and Mexico, which recently saw tariffs on steel and aluminum lifted as part of a bid to secure congressional approval of the renegotiated trade agreement with those countries that the president signed last year.

Instead of tariffs, Canada and Mexico agreed to set up a system for monitoring and enforcement for import surges into the United States. Under the agreement, the United States can reimpose tariffs on individual exports of 25 percent for steel and 10 percent for aluminum in the case of such surges.

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