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US decision looms on steel tariffs as waivers expire for EU

Washington/Brussels - Governments around the world were awaiting decisions from Washington on steel and aluminium tariffs on the eve of Tuesday's expiration of waivers for the European Union and countries on three continents.

US President Donald Trump in March announced global tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminium, claiming that subsidized metal imports were threatening national security by harming domestic producers.

Trump meets Macron and Merkel

Before the import taxes took effect, Washington issued temporary tariff waivers for the EU, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and South Korea.

In an interview published Sunday by Bloomberg News, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that only some of the countries that received waivers would get extensions when the current tariff relief expires.

Since March, South Korea has agreed to revisions to its free trade agreement with Washington, in return for a permanent waiver on the metal tariffs.

Trump last week conducted White House meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with the tariffs and other trade issues high on the agenda.

German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier on Monday called for a "concrete offer" from Brussels to Washington to solve the issue. The two sides would need to continue talking, even if Trump decides to impose the tariffs, Altmaier told state-run radio station Deutschlandfunk.

"I personally believe we should also provide an offer, a concrete one, on the basis of which we can negotiate further," he said.

EU would react as a unit

The World Trade Organization (WTO) could take some time to assess the legality of the tariffs, "therefore I believe we must continue to negotiate whatever happens tomorrow [on Tuesday]," he said.

The aim of the negotiations should be to reduce tariffs in general, Altmaier said.

Although Germany has a huge trade surplus with the United States, Berlin could not promise to limits its exports, he said.

If Trump does decide to impose tariffs, the European Union would react as a unit "in light of the developments in the coming days and weeks," Altmaier said.

On the one hand, Brussels has to have a clear position, but on the other it must be conscious of its responsibility "that it does not turn into a tariff race in which, at the end of the day, everyone loses and no one wins."

The metal tariffs have also heightened trade tensions with China, with Trump continuing to accuse Beijing of maintaining a huge trade surplus through unfair practices.

Since taking office, the right-wing populist, who campaigned on an "America First" platform, has withdrawn from the completed but not yet ratified 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and forced formal negotiations to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.