The US on Tuesday announced that it would extend the temporary exemption from steel and aluminium imports tariffs granted to the EU, Canada and Mexico, until 1 June.
As well as extending the exemption to Canada and Mexico, the US has also reached agreements for permanent exemptions with Argentina, Australia and Brazil.
The White House said in a statement, “In all of these negotiations, the administration is focused on quotas that will restrain imports, prevent trans-shipment, and protect the national security.”
The response to the move was swift, with the European Commission saying, “The US decision prolongs market uncertainty, which is already affecting business decisions. The EU should be fully and permanently exempted from these measures, as they cannot be justified on the grounds of national security.”
The Commission’s statement added, “The EU has also consistently indicated its willingness to discuss current market access issues of interest to both sides, but has also made clear that, as a longstanding partner and friend of the US, we will not negotiate under threat.”
The Commission said that overcapacity in the steel and aluminium sectors does not originate in the EU, adding, “On the contrary, the EU has over the past months engaged at all possible levels with the US and other partners to find a solution to this issue.”
The statement added, “Any future transatlantic work programme has to be balanced and mutually beneficial.”
European trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said she had been in contact with US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and US trade representative Robert Lighthizer over recent weeks, and that these discussions will continue.
Godelieve Quisthoudt-Rowohl, the EPP group spokesperson on international trade, cautioned, “The US is giving us a little break but the sword of Damocles is still present in trade relations with the EU. Take a deep breath but don’t get your hopes up too high.”
S&D group deputy Bernd Lange, Chair of Parliament’s international trade committee, said that while the US decision to extend the EU’s exemption from tariffs was “an important step”, but warned that, “it must not blind us to the fact that the US measures are still in breach of international law and are intended to undermine our rules-based trade order.
“We must come to terms with the fact that the US are no longer a reliable partner. Together, with our international partners and united as Europeans, we must learn to deal with this new situation. One thing is sure: if countries go it alone, everybody will end up getting hurt.
“Negotiations under pressure are unacceptable. We Europeans stand for the rule of law, not the law of the jungle.”
Commenting on behalf of Parliament’s ALDE group, Marietje Schaake said, “As an ally, the import of EU steel and aluminium should not be questioned. China causes today’s unbalanced trade flows through unfair trading practices. Europe, with or without the US, should lead the way in further strengthening the rules-based trading system”
Further reaction to the US move came from Ska Keller, co-leader of the Greens/EFA group.
The German deputy said, “The European Union must use this postponement as an opportunity to vigorously defend multilateralism. The EU should take this case to the World Trade Organisation.
To counter Trump’s reckless protectionist agenda, the EU needs a common strategy. Until the WTO reaches a decision, action to protect European industry and jobs will be needed. But we must avoid escalation - a trade war would be a losing situation for everyone.”