Trump tariffs: EU condems decision and opens WTO case against US

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani has led widespread criticism of US President Donald Trump’s decision to impose steel tariffs on EU companies.

Donald Trump | Photo creidt: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

01 Jun 2018

The move, announced on Thursday, has sparked fears of a trade war and been widely condemned by various political figures and others in the EU.

The new US steel and aluminium tariffs came into immediate effect. It means EU companies will face an extra 25 per cent duty on steel and 10 per cent duty on aluminium exports to the US.

The EU has immediately responded by saying it will press ahead with countermeasures in response to President Trump’s decision.


The EU on Friday said it will now open a case at the World Trade Organisation, with European trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström also expected to announce ‘tit for tat’ tariffs on certain American products.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Friday, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said, “The European Union will today proceed with the WTO dispute settlement case adding those additional duties on a number of imports from the United States. The European Union measures will be reasonable, proportionate and in full compliance with WTO rules and obligations.”

Also speaking on Friday, Tajani said, “I am very disappointed with the US decision to impose duties on steel and aluminium imports from Europe. These are unilateral and unjustified measures that will do serious harm to workers, industry and consumers on both sides of the Atlantic. 

“The EU is ready to defend the interests of its citizens with all the means at its disposal. Parliament will play a full role in defending legitimate European interests. 

“European workers and companies in the sector have a tradition of quality and excellence, and are at the forefront of research and innovation. We have a duty to safeguard this extraordinary human, economic and technological capital, and we will do so with determination,” added the Italian deputy.

“The history of international trade teaches us that protectionism is a negative sum game, that suits no one and only risks triggering trade wars that are harmful to everyone. 

“The EU plays by the rules. We will continue to promote open markets with all relevant partners on an equal footing, with high standards of worker protection, safety, consumer protection and intellectual property,” said Tajani.

His comments are backed by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker who, speaking on Thursday, told German TV reporters, “It makes me angry, worried and annoyed that we have been talking to the Americans for months. Cecilia Malmström has had 15 or 16 meetings with the US secretary of commerce. But they don’t listen. They think they can talk Europeans down and make them small. 

“That is not going to happen. This is not the way to deal with allies - Americans and Europeans are allies after all. And when we are treated this way, we must react adequately, proportionally, sensibly and intelligently.”

ECR group member Emma McClarkin said, “Tariffs on EU steel and aluminium will fail to address global overcapacity and cost European citizens and businesses.”

The UK deputy added, “I am extremely disappointed that both the EU and the US did not find a permanent deal to exempt European businesses from the tariffs on steel and aluminium. 

“The UK and the EU are close security allies of the United States and their close cooperation through Nato and other international bodies is the cornerstone of international peace and security.

“Tariffs are not the right way to address the global problem of steel overcapacity and are incompatible with World Trade Organisation law.

“It is right that the UK and the EU seek to defend our domestic industries from these tariffs and any countermeasures by the EU must be in accordance with international trade law and should not exacerbate an already tense situation. We should lead by example to demonstrate we believe in free trade and the rules-based multilateral trade system.”

GUE-NGL group MEP Helmut Scholz is another to condemn President Trump’s “unilateral” decision, saying, “By imposing additional tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from the European Union, President Trump has taken a decisive step to undermine international trade regulations. He wants to replace the legal order of the WTO with the law of the strongest.”

However, he emphasised the need for the Commission and Council to “respond calmly and within reason, rejecting a trade war”.

Scholz said, “We should remain within the WTO legal framework and immediately and decisively bring the case before the relevant WTO tribunal. Together with the countries concerned, we should make clear our commitment to the rule of law and the principle of equality before the law. Trump is acting illegally.”

“Tit-for-tat tariffs and sanctions threaten all workers in a wide range of sectors, because how interrelated the global economy and production are. They can no longer be treated from a national or bilateral perspective.”

The MEP advocates for a two-step solution to the current crisis, saying, “Within the framework of the OECD, we should press for an immediate meeting of the Global Steel Forum to jointly define the necessary response to the American market intervention on the global supply of steel and aluminium. Priority must be given to securing jobs.

“We must avoid being drawn into a conflict staged by Trump. These conflicts are not in the European interest. In the 21st century there cannot be a ‘me first’ strategy when the massive global challenges facing all countries can only be tackled through joint action.”


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