Steel coils. Picture: BLOOMBERG
Steel coils. Picture: BLOOMBERG

New Delhi — India has asked the US to exempt it from higher tariffs on steel and aluminium, saying Indian exports of the two products did not pose a security threat to the US, three government officials said.

Last week, US President Donald Trump suspended tariffs for Argentina, Australia, Brazil, South Korea, Canada, Mexico and the EU until May 1 2018, as discussions continue.

The administration said any country not on the list could discuss with Washington ways to tackle US national security concerns caused by imports of steel from that country.

India’s trade ministry has written to the US government, asking that it also be exempted from the 25% levy on steel and 10% on aluminium. The US cited national security and economic interests to justify the tariffs — grounds, experts said, that were primarily aimed at China.

"The tariffs will definitely affect our exports. And, clearly, as far as the quantum is concerned and the type of steel is concerned, there is no such thing as a security threat to the US," Union Minister of Steel Chaudhary Birender Singh said.

The US accounts for 2% of India’s steel exports but the move comes at a time when long-festering trade differences between the two countries are already aggravated, triggered by tariffs that India has imposed on dozens of products in recent months as part of steps to boost the domestic industry.

Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale met US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer 10 days ago and asked that the new trade measures not apply to India, a top official involved with framing of government policy said.

"India is not going to be a security threat," he said.

"And if you are looking at the trade deficit, some of it has definitely reduced."

India is one of the countries that the Trump administration had named on its list of countries with which it had a large deficit. Trade between India and the US was $115bn in 2016 and the deficit stood at $31bn. But Lighthizer said the imbalance had improved in 2017.

A third government official said India would emphasise to Washington the small amount of steel exports to the US.

The big worry is that many countries faced with higher tariffs in the US such as China will ramp up exports to India, imperilling the domestic industry, the official said.

According to an internal government note prepared in March, the steel ministry was concerned over displaced exports coming to India and said the government would take "proactive trade remedial measures" to protect the domestic industry from "any unfair trade practices".