IT LOOKS like Australia might avoid Donald Trump's trade war after all.

The US President has talked up the US-Australian relationship this morning, singling out Australia as an "ally" that may not face the steel and aluminium tariffs he is imposing.

Speaking to reporters this morning, he specifically noted Australia as a country that may receive a special deal.

"We have a very close relationship with Australia, we have a trade surplus with Australia, great country long term partner we'll be doing something with them," Mr Trump said.

He also said his administration would be "flexible" with the tariffs, and look at our trade relationships with other countries to determine who would and would not be affected.

The tariffs will become effective in 15 days, with exemptions for Canada and Mexico taking place "immediately", according to officials.

"Depending on whether or not we reach a deal - also very much involved with that is national defence - but if we reach a deal it's most likely that we won't be charging those two countries the tariffs," Mr Trump said.

Australia has been frantically lobbying for exemptions over the past few days, after the President suggested earlier that no one would be immune.

Australia exports an estimated $274 million worth of steel and $276 million of aluminium to the US.

Mr Trump sent global markets tumbling late last week with his announcement of a 25 per cent tariff on steel and 10 per cent tariff on aluminium to protect US producers.

He said the American steel and aluminium industries had been "ravaged by aggressive foreign trade practices".

"A nation that does not protect prosperity at home cannot protect its interests abroad," he said. "When it comes time where our country can't make aluminum and steel, you almost don't have much of a country.

"It's really an assault on our country. I've been talking about this a long time, a lot longer than my political career."

The US is the world's largest importer of steel, importing nearly four times as much as it exports, according to the White House.

Mr Trump has also demanded concession from the European Union, complaining that it treated American cars unfairly and has threatened to hike tariffs on auto imports from Europe.

Trade ministers from 11 Pacific Rim countries signed a sweeping free trade agreement Thursday to streamline trade and slash tariffs just hours before Mr Trump announced his plans.

The pact, which covers 500 million people, includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The deal will eliminate 98 per cent of tariffs in a marketplace worth close to $US14 trillion.

- with wires

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