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'Great country': Trump says Australia might not face tariffs

US President Donald Trump appears set to avoid slapping steel and aluminium tariffs on Australia after intense lobbying by Australian officials, who argued the tariffs would pose a national security risk.

On Friday morning, Mr Trump talked up the US-Australian relationship and indicated Australia would be an ally that would not face the tariffs.

Trump offers possible tariff exemptions

"We have a very close relationship with Australia," Mr Trump told reporters. "We have a trade surplus with Australia. Great country. Long term partner. We will be doing something with them."

Later, at a signing ceremony at the White House, Mr Trump said Canada and Mexico was officially exempt from the tariffs while he indicated "great partners and military allies" may also sidestep America's 25 per cent tariffs on steel imported into the US and 10 per cent on aluminium.

His positive words for Australia came after intense lobbying from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and, according to some reports, Mr Trump's friend and champion Australian golfer Greg Norman.

Australian government officials were generally pessimistic about the likelihood of special treatment but, in their discussions with US officials, had emphasised potential damage to domestic defence capability if trade barriers were to hurt the steel industry. Officials argued it is in American interests to protect the capacity of a key ally.

"Our representations are based on that exemption of national security," Ms Bishop told Sky News on Thursday.

Mr Turnbull said he would continue his advocacy "at many levels, but megaphone diplomacy is rarely effective".

President Donald Trump said Australia will be exempt from his tariff plan.  Photo: Bloomberg

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said national security exemptions would be granted on a "case-by-case and country-by-country basis".

The comments from Ms Sanders suggested a slight chance in tack and prompted Australian officials to push their case even harder on Thursday, Ms Bishop said.

Mr Trump has called out China for dumping cheap steel on the world market and also slammed the European Union for its trade barriers.

It has raised threats of countries responding with their own tariffs on the US and inciting a global trade war.

Multiple media reports said Mr Trump had changed his mind several times in the past week about how the tarrifs should be designed and who should be included.

The US steel and aluminium trade is worth around $500 million a year to Australia.

Overnight, Australia also signed onto a revised Trans-Pacific Partnership, being one of 11 countries to agree to The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) .

The original 12-member agreement included the US but was thrown into limbo early last year when Trump withdrew from the deal three days after his inauguration.

The revised agreement eliminates some requirements of the original TPP demanded by US negotiators, including rules to ramp up intellectual property protection of pharmaceuticals.

The member countries are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Fairfax Media, AAP