Alcoa speaks up as Trump tariff plan looms over aluminium industry


Saturday, 12.30PM:

US president Donald Trump will not be affected by an import levy on aluminium.

Mr Trump tweeted on Saturday morning that he would spare “the great nation of Australia” from the import levy.

“Spoke to PM @TurnbullMalcolm of Australia,” he tweeted.

“He is committed to having a very fair and reciprocal military and trade relationship. Working very quickly on a security agreement so we don’t have to impose steel or aluminium tariffs on our ally, the great nation of Australia.”

Mr Turnbull confirmed the phone call and said he had a “very good and productive discussion” in which he reminded the President of the two countries’ strong military alliance and the “very fair and reciprocal” nature of the trade relationship between the US and Australia.

“I was very pleased the President was able to confirm that he would not have to impose tariffs on Australian steel and aluminium,” Mr Turnbull said.

Caution: Alcoa's Portland Aluminium smelter ships product to markets in Asia, but has spoken up on tariffs proposed by United States President Donald Trump.

Caution: Alcoa's Portland Aluminium smelter ships product to markets in Asia, but has spoken up on tariffs proposed by United States President Donald Trump.

Any tariff on aluminium imports to the US should provide exemptions for countries such as Canada, the owners of Portland’s aluminium smelter say.

The call came after United States President Donald Trump outlined a plan to impose a 25 per cent tariff on all steel imports and 10 per cent tariff on aluminium.

An Alcoa spokeswoman said the company appreciated attention the United States administration was showing the aluminium industry.

“We believe vital trading partners, including Canada, should be exempt from any tariff on aluminium,” she said.

“The aluminium industry has an integrated supply chain and actions should not penalise those that abide by the rules.

“We will continue to work on solutions that create a level playing field and address Chinese overcapacity.”

At the moment, Portland Aluminium sells 100 per cent of the aluminium it produces to customers in Asia.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was in the US this week, and said she would express her concerns to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

A state government spokesperson said it supported the action of the federal government which had been lobbying US counterparts to exempt Australia from any tariffs that might be imposed. The spokesperson said the state government would continue to watch the situation closely.

Last January the smelter received a support package to continue operating for four more years, with $30 million from the federal government and an undisclosed amount from the state government estimated to be up to $200 million.

Alcoa owns 55 per cent of the Portland smelter, with CITIC Nominees and Marubeni Aluminium Australia each owning a 22.5 per cent share.

Mr Trump is pushing to formalise the measures by the end of the week, defying intense domestic and international pressure to completely abandon the import taxes. But the potential exemptions represent a shift from the president's previous insistence the tariffs apply to all countries.

"There are potential carve-outs for Mexico and Canada based on national security, and possibly other countries as well, based on that process," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Thursday morning, AEDT.