Trump's New Metal Tariffs Spark Criticism

US President Donald Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum have come into force, heightening concerns of a possible trade war.

The government imposed a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports from many countries, including China and Japan.

The US administration insists the levies are necessary on national security grounds. Trump claims the US is importing steel and aluminum at unfairly low prices as China's oversupply is reducing global prices.

The measures sparked a global outcry and sharp criticism within the country, prompting Washington to soften its tone. US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told a Senate committee that the European Union and 6 other countries will be exempt from the metal tariffs. They are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and South Korea.

Lighthizer described this as a "pause," suggesting the exemptions may last only while countries negotiate to strike new deals.

Japan is not on Lighthizer's exemption list. But he said he wants a bilateral free-trade agreement with it. Japanese Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko says the move is extremely regrettable. He says he repeatedly explained that steel and aluminum products exported from Japan do not have any negative impact on US national security, and that Japan will continue to ask the US for an exemption.

Mounting fears of a trade war with China

Trump is taking an especially hard line against China. The administration imposed a 25 percent tariff on more than US$50 billion worth of imports from the country. The measure is based on Section 301 of the US trade act that gives Washington power to unilaterally impose sanctions against countries deemed to have unfair trade practices.

The action was prompted by an investigation into China's alleged misappropriation of American intellectual property rights. Trump says there is tremendous intellectual property theft going on, worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

A government investigation alleges China unfairly makes American firms hand over technology to Chinese companies in exchange for access to the country's market.

China considers possible tariffs on US goods

China has unveiled retaliatory measures in response to Trump's tariffs. The commerce ministry says it's preparing tariffs of its own against US imports.

It says a 15 percent tariff would be slapped on 120 products including dry fruit, wine and stainless steel pipes. Eight products including pork will be hit with a 25 percent duty. Those imports were worth about US$3 billion last year. Chinese officials say they're planning to discuss the issue with their US counterparts.