US trade representative Robert Lighthizer said the EU along with a number of other countries would receive temporary exemptions while negotiations continued over the proposed tariffs.
The disclosure came as US President Donald Trump signed an order paving the way for the imposition of wide-ranging tariffs on imports from China worth US$60 billion dollars (£43bn), sparking fears of a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.
A British Government spokesman said they welcomed the “signals” coming from Washington the administration was considering EU-wide exemptions from tariffs “for a limited time period”.
“The Government will continue to work closely with the EU and the US administration for a full exemption and to ensure UK companies are not negatively impacted, either directly or indirectly,” the spokesman said.
“We remain concerned about the impact of these tariffs on global trade and will continue to work with the EU on a multilateral solution to the global problem of overcapacity, as well as to manage the impact on domestic markets.”
Giving evidence to the Senate finance committee, Mr Lighthizer said Canada, Mexico, Australia, Argentina, Brazil and South Korea as well as the EU were on the list of countries that would get an initial exemption from the tariffs of 25 per cent on imported steel and 10 per cent on aluminium.
“There are countries with whom we’re negotiating, and then the question becomes the obvious one that you think, as a matter of business, how does this work?” he said.
“So what he (Mr Trump) has decided to do is to pause the imposition of the tariffs with respect to those countries.”
For Labour, shadow international development secretary Barry Gardiner said the EU exemption was a “positive development” but said tariffs were the wrong way to deal with global overcapacity in steel production.
“President Trump’s use of national security as a way to tackle the global steel overcapacity is the wrong approach and an affront to the international rules-based system of the World Trade Organisation,” he said.
“The UK Government must offer its full support to the EU if it brings a case to the WTO. Global steel overcapacity is an issue that must be dealt with at the international level and through the international rules-based system.”