Japan's trade minister sought an exemption from U.S. import tariffs on steel and aluminium on Saturday (March 10) and called for "calm-headed behaviour" in a dispute that threatens to spiral into a trade war.
Trump's announcement of duties of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminium has stung the European Union and triggered warnings of an all-out worldwide trade war.
Canada and Mexico were given specific exemptions from the tariffs for an indefinite period while negotiations continue on the North American Free Trade Agreement. Japan has decried the "grave impact" the Trump measures could have on the world economy.
Malmstroem said in a statement that she had a "frank" discussion with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer about the steel tariffs, insisting that "the European Union must be excluded" because it is a close U.S. ally.
The talks, initially set to address China's oversupply of steel, have always been in the diary, but after Trump's dramatic announcement, they became the first opportunity to defuse the crisis.
"Dialogue is always the prime option of the European Union", Malmstroem said, adding that Brussels was "counting on being excluded" from the new duties.
Striking a defiant tone, European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen called Trump's speech protectionist, saying it remained unclear how a potential exclusion process would work. The country's steel industry association has said the tariffs are an "extreme" measure.
"We are prepared and will be prepared if need be to use rebalancing measures", Katainen said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that no one will win a "race to the bottom" and said the tariffs risked "hurting everyone".
Trump said the tariffs, which will come into effect after 15 days, will not initially apply to Canada and Mexico.
The EU is also maintaining a threat of counter-measures that would target USA imports ranging from maize to motorcycles, and may publish its list next week to allow industry and other interested parties to give their input.
Mr Trump has linked this to a new security agreement between the U.S. and Australia, which already have close military ties. It intends to hit a range of United States goods with punitive tariffs in retaliation should the bloc face the U.S. import taxes.
Europe's main steel federation said Trump's reasons for slapping tariffs on steel and aluminum are absurd and warned that the move could cost tens of thousands of jobs across the continent. "It could disrupt the steel and aluminium markets of the world and have a negative impact", Mr Seko told reporters after meeting Mr Lighthizer to seek an exemption for Japanese producers.
The EU and Japan previous year formally agreed the broad outlines of a landmark trade deal that was announced as a direct challenge to the protectionism championed by Trump.