Turnbull backtracks from Ciobo’s tariff blunder
The Turnbull government has ruled out participating in a World Trade Organisation action against US President Donald Trump’s steel and aluminium tariffs, saying the exemption granted to Australia removes any grounds for complaint. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also rejected criticism of the government’s growing use of measures to prevent below-cost products being dumped in the Australian market, insisting the work done by the Anti-Dumping Commission was about addressing unfair practices and not a form of protectionism.
Malcolm Turnbull says Australia won’t join global WTO action against Trump tariffs
Over the weekend, Mr Trump confirmed Australian steel and aluminium would not be hit with new import taxes – 25 per cent and 10 per cent respectively – after the Turnbull government’s intense lobbying effort that focused on the trade surplus the US has with Australia and the close strategic alliance.
There has been speculation Australia would support WTO action by other nations who are not exempt, with Trade Minister Steve Ciobo saying on Sunday that Australia would “practice what we preach on free trade” and look at complaints on a case-by-case basis.
On Monday, Mr Turnbull said: “I know there’s been speculation in the media about action being taken by other countries in the World Trade Organisation about the US steel and aluminium tariffs. Obviously, as a country that will be exempt from those tariffs, we don’t have a basis to bring a complaint, so I just want to be clear about that.”
“It’s because we’re not going to be subjected to it so we won’t be sustaining an injury,” Mr Ciobo added in a later interview with Sky News.
Mr Trump’s tariffs risk triggering a full-blown trade war, with leaders across Europe and Asia threatening retaliatory import taxes.
South Korea, the European Union and other countries are also mulling complaints to the WTO. In 2002, when former US president George Bush imposed steel tariffs, a complaint by the EU, Japan, Korea, China, Brazil and others was successfully upheld by the trade regulator.
Speaking at Bluescope’s Port Kembla steelworks, the Prime Minister reiterated the Australian exemption did not require “any change or addition to our security arrangements” with the US, saying Mr Trump’s wording about a “security agreement” was just a reference to the legal process for Australia to receive a carve-out.
It was revealed last week that a burst of new anti-dumping measures – amounting to targeted tariffs designed to raise the price tag of below-cost imports – were introduced on steel products from five countries at the same time as Mr Turnbull trumped “open markets” and “flexibility” in global trade.
The government toughened Australia’s anti-dumping regime in 2015 and 2016 and the Prime Minister said the government’s efforts were aimed at products being sold in Australia at unfair prices.
“There are 77 anti-dumping measures in place. 51 of them relate to steel and seven relate to aluminium. So you can see we are very vigilant in ensuring there’s a level playing field. So we are committed , passionately committed, to free trade. But it’s got to be fair,” he said.
“We have given our Anti-Dumping Commission stronger powers, we have given them more money to ensure they are able to protect Australian industry from unfair practices. This is not about protectionism.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has promised a further toughening in response to concerns that the new US trade barriers will see a surge in products being diverted to Australia for dumping.
“If this happens, it puts Australian jobs at risk,” Mr Shorten said on Friday.
He announced a Labor government would give the commission an extra $3.5 million a year to boost its investigative capacity, triple penalties for companies trying to evade dumping penalties, and make the commission a “one stop shop” for trade remedies by handing it responsibility for import safeguards, which are currently overseen by the Productivity Commission.
Mr Ciobo said Labor’s proposal was a last minute effort “to shuffle their way into the picture by inventing a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist” and ruled out supporting it.