The United States is working to exempt ally Australia from its newly unveiled foreign steel and aluminium tariffs, President Donald Trump said today, tying the effort to a security agreement. Major US trading partners have condemned Trump's decision to impose the punitive tariffs as protectionism and an affront to allies, amid growing fears of a global trade war. After a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Trump said the Australian leader "is committed to having a very fair and reciprocal military and trade relationship." "Working very quickly on a security agreement so we don't have to impose steel or aluminium tariffs on our ally, the great nation of Australia!" the American president added. There were no immediate details on what such a "security agreement" would entail. Australia and the United States have been joined in the ANZUS Treaty security alliance since it took effect in 1952. Turnbull told reporters that Trump "was able to confirm that he would not have to impose tariffs on Australian steel and aluminium," and that now the paperwork will be done "to put that direction into effect." Australian steel and aluminium account for just a small percentage of the US import market, but Canberra has warned the tariffs would distort trade and lead to job losses. "That was a very good and productive discussion with the president," Turnbull said. Trump had indicated he would be flexible toward "real friends." During yesterday's signing of the tariffs, 25 per cent on imported steel and 10 per cent on aluminium, he confirmed Canada and Mexico would be exempted permanently if the ongoing renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement is successful. But both Mexico and Canada rejected Trump's linkage of the levies to ongoing NAFTA talks. The US leader had also added Australia to a list of likely exemptions. "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," he said. But Trump took aim at Germany - the biggest economy in the European Union trade bloc - as a bad actor likely to face tariffs. Railing against countries that had "taken advantage" of the United States, Trump accused Germany of behaving unfairly by contributing much less than the US towards the funding of NATO.