Australia won't join US steel WTO action

March 12, 2018

Australia won't join any action against the US steel tariffs because it secured an exemption.

After the Turnbull government secured an exemption for Australian exporters from new US tariffs on steel and aluminium, Labor wants it to turn its focus to similarly protecting local businesses.

The opposition says it's logical that steel from other countries that was destined for the US but will now be hit with a 25 per cent impost will have to find another home.

"Sometimes that steel is dumped for ridiculously low prices and that smashes our local businesses, our local industry and our local workers," Labor finance spokesman Jim Chalmers told Sky News.

"Our anti-dumping regime is weaker than other countries, and it's insufficiently resourced."

Labor wants the government to triple the penalties for dumping - selling at an extremely low price - products into the Australian market, give the Anti-Dumping Commission more funding, and give that body all responsibilities for dealing with trade issues instead of splitting the job with the Productivity Commission.

The government has also been scrutinised over what notorious deal-maker US President Donald Trump might expect in exchange for offering Australia the rare exemption.

Mr Trump said in a tweet his administration was "working very quickly on a security agreement" so it didn't have to impose the steel or aluminium tariffs Australia.

In February he told Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull he would love for Australia to join the US on freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea.

But Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Trade Minister Steve Ciobo insist there's no quid pro quo expected on the tariff deal.

Mr Trump's reference to a "security agreement" was just using the specific language of the executive order he issued on the tariffs, Ms Bishop told reporters.

"The exemption is simply an exemption based on what they call national security grounds," she said.

"The United States was not asking anything in return."

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