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Tariffs Set off Scramble for Exemptions03/21 06:21

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- When Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross held up a can of 
Campbell's soup in a CNBC interview to make the case that the Trump 
administration's steel and aluminum tariffs were "no big deal," the canning 
industry begged to disagree --- and they were hardly alone.

   President Donald Trump's strong-armed trade policies have set off an intense 
scramble among industry groups, companies and foreign countries seeking 
exemptions from tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on 
imported aluminum. The push comes ahead of an upcoming round of new penalties 
expected to be slapped on China by week's end.

   The Can Manufacturers Institute, which represents 22,000 workers at 
manufacturers across the nation, estimates the steel and aluminum tariffs would 
harm their industry and consumers alike. The institute says there are 119 
billion cans made in the U.S., meaning a 1 cent tariff would lead to a $1.1 
billion tax on consumers and businesses.

   "Secretary Ross has made cans a poster child to dispel concerns about the 
costs of tariffs," said Robert Budway, the institute's president. He said his 
organization was concerned Ross "is already predisposed to deny our petitions."

   Trump's one-two punch on trade has set in motion a deluge of requests to the 
Commerce Department for exclusions for certain steel and aluminum products. 
Foreign countries, meanwhile, complain the U.S. Trade Representative's office 
has not provided specific guidance on gaining exemptions before the steel and 
aluminum tariffs are implemented on Friday.

   "Typically, the countries are determined before tariffs are announced," said 
Josh Zive, senior principal at the law firm Bracewell LLP. This time, countries 
don't know whether they will end up being targeted or exempted --- "that's 
weird and no one knows what to make of it."

   The Trump administration, which has said steel and aluminum imports threaten 
U.S. national security, has already given Mexico and Canada a reprieve --- 
provided they agree to a revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The 
European Union, South Korea, Australia and Brazil are among the countries 
seeking the exemptions.

   Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance 
Committee, said tariffs are "sometimes necessary tools" to protect national 
security or fight unfair trade practices. But he said the administration's 
approach is producing "chaos, uncertainty, and an alienation of our closest 

   Emily Davis, a spokeswoman for U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, 
said the U.S "is engaged in discussions with several countries to determine if 
means other than tariffs can be arranged to address our national security 

   Companies that buy imported steel and aluminum can request tariff relief 
from the Commerce Department, especially if they rely on types of imported 
steel and aluminum that aren't available from domestic U.S. producers.

   Expect a deluge: Steel and aluminum producers have 30 days to object to the 
exemption requests. Commerce expects 4,500 requests for relief and 1,500 
objections --- and it is supposed to reach decisions in 90 days.

   Commerce has said it intends to reach decisions on a company-by-company 
basis, not by making across-the-board exemptions for individual steel and 
aluminum products. That decision has created anxieties that certain companies 
could get tariff relief while others would be forced to pay tariffs on the same 
product --- perhaps because in the time between the two requests domestic U.S. 
production has ramped up to fill shortages.

   "The big thing is, it's arbitrary," said Mary Lovely of the Peterson 
Institute for International Economics. "The government is becoming the 
matchmaker between the purchaser and the supplier."

   "It's a real question to me whether they understand the magnitude of the 
requests they are going to get," Zive said of Commerce. "How they're going to 
get through them in 90 days is difficult to understand."

   Industry officials said other aspects of the exemption process will burden 
companies. Manufacturers are unclear whether companies will qualify for refunds 
if they end up getting exemptions after they've begun paying the tariffs. And 
since Trump set no timeline for ending the tariffs, the companies will need to 
reapply for the exemptions on an annual basis.

   Companies, meanwhile, have been trying to beat the tariffs by stocking up on 
imports. Steel imports rose 15 percent last year and another 17 percent in 

   The steel and aluminum tariffs may only be the opening salvo.

   Administration officials said Trump is expected to announce $60 billion in 
tariffs on Chinese imports by Friday on a wide array of consumer goods, from 
apparel to electronics, and even on imported parts for products made in the U.S.

   Ross, appearing before a House budget panel on Tuesday, faced questions 
about the trade moves, with lawmakers warning the tariffs could lead to 
retaliation from foreign countries and wreck economic havoc for consumers.

   "I worry that now we're engaged in a trade war which is further going to 
alienate us from our adversaries," said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., 
chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

   Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., noted that the decision to exclude aluminum and 
steel producers on a company-by-company basis --- rather than by individual 
products --- could create the possibility that some companies will gain a huge 
advantage over their competitors if they win exemptions.

   Ross vowed that "the process will be open and transparent" and Commerce was 
working to "minimize the amount of inconvenience that any of the affected 
parties will suffer as a result of the process. We're gearing up to be fast, to 
be fair and to be practical.


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