Unswayed by Republican warnings of a trade war, President Donald Trump ordered steep new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to the US on today, vowing to fight back against an "assault on our country" by foreign competitors.
The president said he would exempt Canada and Mexico as "a special case" while negotiating for changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The new tariffs will take effect in 15 days, with America's neighbours indefinitely spared "to see if we can make the deal," Trump said.
He suggested in an earlier meeting with his Cabinet that Australia and "other countries" might be spared, a shift that could soften the international blow amid threats of retaliation by trading partners.
Those "other countries" can try to negotiate their way out of the tariffs, he indicated, by ensuring their trade actions do not harm America's security.
Surrounded by steel and aluminum workers holding hard hats, Trump cast his action as necessary to protect industries "ravaged by aggressive foreign trade practices. It's really an assault on our country. It's been an assault."
His move, an assertive step for his "America First" agenda, has rattled allies across the globe and raised questions at home about whether protectionism will impede US economic growth.
The president made his announcement the same day that officials from 11 other Pacific Rim countries signed a sweeping trade agreement that came together after he pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership last year.
Though he focused on workers and their companies in his announcement, Trump's legal proclamation made a major point that weakened steel and aluminum industries represent a major threat to America's military strength and national security.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom tweeted after Trump's announcement that "the EU should be excluded from these measures." Malmstrom said she would be meeting with USTrade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Brussels on Saturday.
The British government said tariffs "are not the right way to address the global problem of overcapacity" and said it would work with EU partners "to consider the scope for exemptions outlined today."
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono called the decision "extremely regrettable," predicting it could have a major impact on the economy and the relationship between the US and Japan, as well as the global economy.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, meanwhile, called the announcement a "step forward" and said Canadian officials had exerted tremendous efforts to get the exemption. "That Canada could be seen as a threat to US security is inconceivable," she said.
The exemptions for Canada and Mexico could be ended if talks to renegotiate NAFTA stall, the White House said. The talks are expected to resume early next month.