US President Donald Trump appears to have capitulated on his pledge to impose import tariffs on steel and aluminium from the European Union and six other countries.

Trade representative Robert Lighthizer reportedly told a Senate committee hearing that the EU will be exempt from the tariffs, along with Australia, South Korea, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Canada, according to the BBC.

The tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium were due to come into force today (23 March). The European Union (EU) had warned earlier this week that it was prepared to impose temporary safeguard duties on imports of US-made apparel and textiles, in response to the duties.

The US trade representative was reported as saying by the BBC: "The idea that the president has is that, based on a certain set of criteria, that some countries should get out. 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."

Although it is unclear whether Britain will enjoy the same exemptions, Gareth Stace, a director with the trade association UK Steel, said the temporary exemption from tariffs would be "greeted with an enormous sigh of relief" by the country's steel sector.

"It now provides us with the breathing room to find a more permanent solution,'' the BBC reported him as saying.

A UK government spokesperson said they welcomed the "signals" that the US government was considering EU-wide exemptions for a limited time period.

"The government will continue to work closely with the EU and the US administration for a full exemption, and to ensure UK companies are not negatively impacted, either directly or indirectly.''