US President Donald Trump has chosen to “pause” his controversial decision to apply new steel and aluminium tariffs to the European Union and other trading partners. The US was slated to begin charging import duties of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium from March 23.

“The idea that the president has is that, based on a certain set of criteria, that some countries should get out,” US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told a Senate committee hearing on March 22.

“There are countries with whom we’re negotiating and the question becomes the obvious one that you think, as a matter of business, how does this work. So what he has decided to do is to pause the imposition of the tariffs with respect to those countries,” he said.

As reported by the Reuters news agency, Lighthizer then listed these as Canada and Mexico, “Europe … Australia … Argentina … Brazil and … [South] Korea”.

The news was welcomed in Europe and prompted EU leaders arriving in Brussels for a summit to postpone a discussion about transatlantic trade tensions until later in the evening.

Speaking to Reuters, one senior EU official said Lighthizer’s announcement was “welcomed, in line with our expectations”, adding: “But we’ll see whether this is officially confirmed”.

News of the exemption followed EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom’s trip to Washington for talks with Lighthizer and US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters that Europe had shown itself united in its support of free trade and rejection of protectionism.

“My wish is that we can continue to preserve international trade rules that are good for all and that the powers that have contributed to putting them in place will assure that they are respected,” said French President Emmanuel Macron.