Companies can seek tariff exemptions but rules are unclear

Trump's new top economic adviser hates tariffs
Trump's new top economic adviser hates tariffs

The Trump administration began accepting applications Monday from companies seeking an exemption from its sweeping tariffs on steel and aluminum.

But it's unclear exactly which companies are eligible to apply. The application process takes up to 90 days. The tariffs begin Friday.

The Commerce Department said in a statement Sunday night that "domestic industry" or "US industry" may apply for an exemption on the 10% aluminum tariff or 25% steel tariff.

Commerce didn't clarify whether foreign companies with factories and other operations in the US may apply. For example, Toyota has car plant in Kentucky. BMW has one in South Carolina. A Commerce spokesman did not respond to a request to clarify.

Related: Trump's tariffs to be debated in the land of protectionism: Argentina

Companies that do apply must fill out separate forms for steel and aluminum exemptions, if they apply for both. It's not clear what criteria the Commerce Department will use to decide which companies get exemptions and which don't. But applicants must say what specific, imported metal products they use, and whether there is a US firm that produces the same product to the quantity and quality needed.

Commerce says it will judge all exemptions in the context of US national security -- the rationale in the first place for the tariffs.

Conversely, steel and aluminum companies are also allowed to file objections to other companies' exemption applications. They are allowed to seek an objection if they prove they can or will produce a similar steel or aluminum product of the necessary quantity and quality. They must also state how long the delivery will take.

Commerce says companies with questions regarding the steel tariff exemption should email steel232@bis.doc.gov or call 202-482-5642. Firms with questions regarding the aluminum tariff exemptions should contact aluminum232@bis.doc.gov or 202-482-4757. The steel exemption form can be found here and the aluminum exemption form here.

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