The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison has downplayed – but not denied – speculation the United States considered placing trade tariffs on Australian aluminium imports last week.

The New York Times reported that the Trump administration had discussed placing tariffs on Australian aluminium, which, under a deal struck by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, remains exempt from tariffs Donald Trump placed on metal imports to the US in 2018.

The NYT reported the White House decided against making any changes to the Australian arrangement after defence and diplomatic advisers cautioned against any actions which could potentially alienate a key ally in the Asia-Pacific region.

Speaking in the Solomon Islands, Morrison did not deny the report, but said Australia remained in communication with the States.