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The EU's top trade official said Friday that "dialogue" with Washington was the bloc's "prime option" as it seeks to win exemptions from US President Donald Trump's controversial new steel and aluminium tariffs.

"We are going to be very fair, we're going to be very flexible", Trump told his cabinet, while pointing to winners and losers from the contentious policy.

"We will not place any new tax on product made in the USA", Mr Trump said.

Mr Trump described Australia as a "great country" and a "long term partner" and pledged to "do something" with the long-standing ally.

"The American steel and aluminum industry has been ravaged by aggressive foreign trade practices", Trump said during the announcement.

The exemptions for USA trading partners in North America are part of a broader negotiating strategy from Trump's administration.

"If you don't want to pay tax, bring your plant to the U.S.", he said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan released a statement Thursday saying he opposes the tariffs but is relieved that Trump exempted Canada and Mexico. He stated in a press release, "We know tariffs and taxes work to level the playing field so American workers can compete fairly in the global marketplace". With the signing he is vowing to fight back against foreign competitors and bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.

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"President [George W.] Bush's similar steel tariffs in 2002 backfired and proved that such tariffs destroy many more US manufacturing jobs than they save", Alexander said.

Business leaders, meanwhile, have continued to sound the alarm about the potential economic fallout from tariffs, with the president and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce raising the spectre of a global trade war.

Coming on the same day that 11 United States allies - but not the USA - sign a landmark Asia-Pacific trade agreement, the move on tariffs only underscores Trump's embrace of the protectionist policies he believes helped him win the presidency. He also said that the U.S. is open to modifying tariffs on individual countries, depending on how they treat the US. "It will cost us jobs in the state of Wisconsin", said Walker. "It's still all bad", said John Thune (South Dakota), the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, just before Trump's signing ceremony.

In the event of a breakdown over NAFTA, these tariffs would likely bring swift retaliatory tariffs on US goods imported into Canada.

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.

If Trump heard the complaints, he did not heed them.

"We also make steel for the American military programme so it's doubly absurd that we should then be caught on an investigation on national security".

"We urge the administration to take this risk seriously", Donohue said.