Cecilia Malmström in ‘frank discussion’ with US on trade dispute

Written by Martin Banks on 12 March 2018 in News
News

European trade Commissioner voices fresh concerns over US tariffs on steel and aluminium.

Cecilia Malmström | Photo credit: European Commission audiovisual


US President Donald Trump's decision to impose additional duties on imports of certain steel and aluminium products into the US was discussed at a meeting between Malmström and US trade representative Robert Lighthizer in Brussels over the weekend.

Japan’s Economy and Industry minister Hiroshige Seko also attended the meeting, which had been arranged before the tariffs were announced by President Trump last week.

A Commission spokesperson said, “They emphasised the strong concern of both the EU and Japan at the announced measures. As long-standing security partners of the US, they underlined to ambassador Lighthizer their expectation that EU and Japanese exports to the US would be exempted from the application of higher tariffs.”


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Malmström also met bilaterally with Lighthizer to discuss the issue further, and to “gain additional clarity on the process surrounding the announced measures.”

The Swede tweeted after their meeting, "I had a frank discussion with the US side about the serious pending issue of steel and aluminium tariffs. As a close security and trade partner of the United States, the European Union must be excluded from the announced measures. No immediate clarity on the exact US procedure for exemption however, so discussions will continue next week.”

The European Parliament meanwhile will hold an emergency debate with Malmström on Trump’s plans and the EU's response on Wednesday in Strasbourg.

Manfred Weber, leader of the European Parliament’s centre-right EPP group, told this website, "We believe that free and fair trade is to the benefit of the people. We believe in partnership and bridge-building. Therefore, we deeply regret President Trump's announcement of tariffs on imported goods. The EU does not want the conflict to escalate, but we will not accept this aggressive behaviour without reacting."

The EU and a number of other US trading partners are expected to challenge the action before the WTO if they are not given exemptions.

"I had a frank discussion with the US side about the serious pending issue of steel and aluminium tariffs. As a close security and trade partner of the United States, the European Union must be excluded from the announced measures. No immediate clarity on the exact US procedure for exemption however, so discussions will continue next week” - Cecilia Malmström

Trump's tariff plan, which will go into effect in just over a week, is based on a rarely used trade law that allows the president to impose restrictions on imports to protect national security interests.

But MEPs on Parliament’s international trade committee have warned that imposing restrictions on EU steel and aluminium exports to the US is “unacceptable and calls for a firm response.”

In a strongly-worded statement, Chair, Bernd Lange, a German S&D group member, said, “The committee strongly condemns the announcement by the President of the United States to impose restrictions on imports of steel and aluminium to the US in the form of additional import duties.”

The statement was also signed by a cross-party group of MEPs including German deputy Godelieve Quistthoudt-Rowohl, Italian MEP Alessia Maria Mosca, UK member Emma McClarkin, Helmut Scholz, from Germany and Yannick Jadot, from France.

It adds, “The envisaged measure is unacceptable and incompatible with WTO law. US trade protectionism will isolate our strategic partner and instead of creating growth and jobs will have the contrary effect. We deeply regret this step. We strongly support the European Commission in giving a firm and immediate response by bringing forward WTO-compatible countermeasures against the United States to defend the interests of our citizens.

“We also call on the Commission and the member states to anticipate possible negative impacts, including potential job losses and to find efficient ways to introduce mitigating measures.”

“The EU has to be clear: The United States need to play by the rules. Duties on steel and aluminium are not only triggering a trade war: they will cost Trump’s administration a loss of American jobs” - Alessia Mosca

At their meeting last Wednesday, EU commissioners said the EU “stands ready to react proportionately and fully in line with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules in case the US measures are formalised and affect EU's economic interests.”

In a statement, the EU executive said, “We have made clear that if a move like this is taken, it will hurt the EU. It will put thousands of European jobs in jeopardy and it has to be met by firm and proportionate response. Unlike these proposed US duties, our three tracks of work are in line with our obligations in the WTO. They will be carried out by the book.

“The root cause of the problem in the steel and aluminium sector is global overcapacity. It is rooted in the fact that a lot of steel and aluminium production takes place under massive state subsidies, and under non-market conditions. This can only be addressed by cooperation, getting to the source of the problem and working together. “What is clear is that turning inward is not the answer. Protectionism cannot be the answer, it never is."

Parliament’s S&D group, in a statement, said it “strongly condemned” Trump’s decision, adding that the EU “has to react strongly and remain united to protect its workers and businesses and defend the role of law. Reckless protectionism and nationalism will only isolate and hurt the US.”

The group'a spokesperson for trade, Alessia Mosca added, “The EU has to be clear: The United States need to play by the rules. Duties on steel and aluminium are not only triggering a trade war: they will cost Trump’s administration a loss of American jobs.”

The Italian MEP said, "Today, more than ever, we stand together to defend the role of the WTO: global issues require global solutions. It’s not the first time the EU faces this threat. [President] Bush did the same in 2002 before changing his mind under t pressure from his own citizens.”

“We should now focus on providing safeguard measures to our workers and businesses to protect them from the threat of lower exports and increased imports as a result of trade diversion.”

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

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