The United States will decide by the end of April whether Argentina will be spared from steep taxes on steel and aluminium imports.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday that some countries won't have to pay the tariffs, which take effect Friday, while they try to negotiate exemptions.
US President Donald Trump has imposed tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminium, saying that relying on foreign metals jeopardises US national security. Argentine firms, in particular, will be hit hard by the move – in 2015, the country exported US$320 million and US$493 million of aluminium and steel respectively to the US.
Trump has already exempted Canada and Mexico from the tariffs, provided they reach an agreement to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Speaking in Washington, Lighthizer said the administration is also negotiating tariff exemptions with the Argentina, the European Union, South Korea and Australia and expects to begin talks with Brazil. He said a decision would be made on which countries will win exemptions by the end of April after talks have concluded.
The EU has threatened to respond to the metals tariffs with taxes on a range of US products including jeans, motorcycles and bourbon.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecili Malmstrom met with US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. The two issued a joint statement Wednesday saying the US and EU have "agreed to launch immediately a process of discussion... on trade issues of common concern, including steel and aluminium, with a view to identifying mutually acceptable outcomes as rapidly as possible."
The US Commerce Department is separately reviewing companies' request for relief from the tariffs if, for example, the steel or aluminium they need is not produced in the United States.
Meanwhile, Trump is expected to raise the temperature on trade this week yet again by unveiling a new package of retaliatory trade measures on Chinese imports to punish Beijing for the alleged "theft" of US companies' intellectual property.
The Trump administration's aggressive moves on trade have stoked alarm among lawmakers in the president's own party, as well as industry groups, who say the measure exposes the United States to higher prices and retaliation.
It says theft of intellectual property is one reason for the United States' massive trade deficit with China in goods: US$375 billion last year.
Members of Congress are worried that the aggressive action will invite a counterpunch from China and that US farmers are especially vulnerable to retaliatory tariffs on US soybeans. Lighthizer promised to strike back if China targets US farmers.
"We can't have a US$375 billion trade deficit and not do anything to defend ourselves," Lighthizer said.
Speaking in Chile on Wednesday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the United States will consider rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership after it deals with other priorities.
Trump withdrew the US from the agreement last year, but the remaining 11 members pressed ahead and recently signed a sweeping free trade deal in the Chilean capital.
Mnuchin said Wednesday that the Trump administration is focused on talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
He said that it would be "a bit premature" to review details now of what needs to be addressed for the U.S. to reconsider re-entry to the partnership. But he said that it will "definitely" be considered after Trump's administration reviews other goals.
Mnuchin spoke in Chile after a two-day meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bankers in Argentina.