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Australia braces for potential trade war


America’s controversial new tariffs on steel and aluminium are likely to steal some thunder from the milestone signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact this week.

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Trade Minister Steve Ciobo will join his counterparts from 10 countries for the signing ceremony in Chile on Thursday and expects the issue to be discussed on the sidelines.

“The value of the TPP 11 is reinforced by the US tariff decision… it’s about ensuring we diversify Australia’s export markets to safeguard the future of our exporters,” Ciobo told AAP.

US President Donald Trump is pushing ahead with a controversial 25 per cent tariff on steel imports and 10 per cent on aluminium.

Australia, Canada, European nations and other allies were hoping to be exempt, but White House trade adviser Peter Navarro confirmed on Sunday Trump’s tariffs would be “across the board”.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull received assurances at the G20 in Germany mid-2017, Australia would receive an exemption.

“I’m not going to provide a commentary on the Trump administration’s trustworthiness,” Ciobo said.

Modelling by Deloitte Access Economics shows a global trade war could cut $5 billion from national income and cost 20,000 Australian jobs, the Financial Review reported.

There are provisions for Australia to take action in the World Trade Organisation, while any potential Australian retaliatory action against the new US tariffs is likely to have bipartisan support.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen says even if Australia were to get an exemption, there would still be other consequences, such as affected companies dumping their steel here.

“It’s lose, lose, lose,” he told ABC radio today.

“I think we should look at all options in the national interest.”

Industry warned on the weekend Australia risked being trampled by the “elephants” of China, the US and Europe in any global trade war.

The US accounts for about 0.8 per cent of Australia’s steel and 1.5 per cent of aluminium exports.


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