New Zealand officials are expected to seek an exemption to new US steel and aluminium tariffs, says Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
US President Donald Trump has used his executive powers - invoking national security risk - to apply tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent to aluminium but said there would be a 15-day window for nations to make an appeal for exemptions.
The move has fueled fears that it could provoke retaliation by China and the EU sparking a trade war.
Nobody wants a trade war because once you get into retaliatory actions it's a slippery slope.
Robertson stopped short of condemning Trump's move directly but expressed disappointment at the shift in US policy.
"Clearly it's not the way we want to see world trade go forward," he said. "There's been a lot of effort over a long period of time to reduce tariffs. So clearly it's not a development we favour."
Trump mentioned both Canada and Mexico - US partners in the Nafta trade pact - and Australia, as a valuable ally that would be considered for exemptions.
He made no mention of New Zealand, which exports about $60 million of steel and aluminium to the US each year.
"I'm sure our government officials will be looking towards an exemption and we need to chase that down.
"But we also need to understand a bit more about the extent of the tariffs," he said.
"Does it cover materials that aren't made in the US [by US companies] ... I know a proportion of NZ steel exports are things that aren't made in the US."
Robertson said US developments highlighted the importance of the CTPP multilateral trade deal that was signed in Chile at the same time as Trump announced his new tariffs.
That would open up a range of new markets for New Zealand exporters, he said.
"Nobody wants a trade war because once you get into retaliatory actions it's a slippery slope. From a New Zealand point of view our focus is on making sure that if there is the possibility of an exemption we can get that, and on building much stronger trade deals and export markets."
Both China and the Europe Union appear to be in Trump's sights and both have indicated they would look to retaliate if they feel the US has broken trade rules.
Last week the EU indicated it could respond by hiking tariffs on US products like jeans, Harley Davidson Motorcycles and bourbon.
Yesterday Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China would take a "proper and necessary" response to new tariffs but said a trade war would only harm both sides.
"A confusing situation just got more confusing and uncertain," said Stephen Jacobi,
executive director, NZ International Business Forum. "This is the worst way to conduct trade policy, it flouts WTO rules. It's not the way to put the world on a path to growth."