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Gina Raimondo. Picture: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE
Gina Raimondo. Picture: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE

Washington  — The US and Britain on Wednesday agreed to launch talks aimed at resolving their trade dispute over US steel and aluminium tariffs, the countries said in a joint statement.

No specific date or timeline was given for the talks but discussions will address "global steel and aluminium excess capacity, including the US’s application of tariffs" on the metals from Britain.

"Both parties are committed to working towards an expeditious outcome that ensures the viability of steel and aluminium industries in both markets against the continuing shared challenge of global excess capacity and strengthens their democratic alliance," the countries said in the joint statement.

They said the talks also will cover the UK’s 25% retaliatory tariffs on US products, which include whiskey, motorcycles, blue jeans and tobacco. Annual exports of US whiskey to Britain have fallen by more than half since 2018, according to the Distilled Spirits Council, which welcomed the announcement.

A British government source said: "Until a deal is done we will continue to apply rebalancing measures on US products, and won’t hesitate to take any action necessary to defend our vital steel and aluminium industries."

The joint statement was issued after a virtual meeting between US commerce secretary Gina Raimondo and UK secretary of state for international trade Anne-Marie Trevelyan to discuss the tariffs on Tuesday. US trade representative Katherine Tai also signed onto the joint statement.

Britain is keen to negotiate duty-free access to American steel and aluminium markets similar to that granted by Washington to the EU on January 1 as part of a quota deal  reached last October that took six months to negotiate.

The metals tariffs — 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium — were first imposed in March 2018 by former US president Donald Trump under a Cold War-era national security law have been a major transatlantic trade irritant since then.

Europe, Britain, Japan and other US allies have argued that they do not represent a security threat and should not be subject to the tariffs.

As part of the US-EU deal, Washington will allow 4-million tonnes of EU "melted and poured" steel into the US annually in exchange for Brussels dropping retaliatory tariffs against EU products.

The two sides agreed to work together to address global excess capacity in steel and aluminium production largely centred in China — a goal echoed by Raimondo and Trevelyan as part of the US-UK talks.

The announcement of talks comes at a sensitive time for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose leadership is under threat after a series of revelations about Covid-19 lockdown breaches at his residence.

If that crisis develops into a formal leadership challenge, it could paralyse decision-making within government for several weeks and limit ministers’ mandate to negotiate the concessions needed to reach a compromise with the US.



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