The United States has told the World Trade Organisation it has agreed to discuss with China the Trump administration’s efforts to slap tariffs on steel, aluminium and an array of goods from China.

A Geneva-based trade official said that the move was an expected, but not mandatory, step that buys Washington time to flesh out its differences with Beijing.

China requested the discussions about U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminium imports that the administration has defended on national security grounds, and the possibility of U.S. tariffs on 1,300 Chinese goods. The tariffs on the goods have been billed as a penalty for Beijing forcing U.S. companies to hand over technology to obtain access to China’s market.

The official said the United States had agreed to the discussions, known as consultations in WTO parlance, without yielding about its belief that the tariffs are justified. The official requested anonymity since he was not authorised to speak publicly about the discussions.

The United States has argued that the proposed tariffs on goods like electronics and machinery have not been levied yet, so China’s request wasn’t justified under WTO dispute settlement rules.

Also this week, India requested consultations with the United States over the steel and aluminium tariffs, seeking to maintain a similar level of concessions from the U.S. — mirroring a similar move a day earlier by the European Union.

Critics of the U.S. tariffs on the metals accuse Washington of unfairly trying to defend a national industrial sector under the guise of national security concerns.

Mexico and Canada — U.S. trading partners under the NAFTA agreement — are among countries that have won temporary exemptions to the otherwise blanket tariffs on U.S. imports of aluminium and steel.

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