The Trump administration has decided to impose new duties on steel and aluminium imports from three key trading partners - the European Union, Canada and Mexico - after failing to reach deals with them to address national security concerns related to the imports.
It means that starting on 1 June, the EU will no longer be exempted from US additional duties and our steel and aluminium exports will be subject to additional tariffs of 25 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively.
The decision, announced by US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Thursday, was met with dismay by EU leaders, with Commission calling it a “bad day” for world trade.
Leading the response, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, “I am concerned by this decision. The EU believes these unilateral US tariffs are unjustified and at odds with World Trade Organisation rules.
“This is protectionism, pure and simple. Over the past months we have continuously engaged with the US at all possible levels to jointly address the problem of overcapacity in the steel sector.”
He added, “Overcapacity remains at the heart of the problem and the EU is not the source of but on the contrary equally hurt by it. That is why we are determined to work towards structural solutions together with our partners.
“We have also consistently indicated our openness to discussing ways to improve bilateral trade relations with the US but have made it clear that the EU will not negotiate under threat. By targeting those who are not responsible for overcapacities, the US is playing into the hands of those who are responsible for the problem.”
Juncker went on, “The US now leaves us with no choice but to proceed with a WTO dispute settlement case and with the imposition of additional duties on a number of imports from the US. We will defend the Union’s interests, in full compliance with international trade law.”
Elsewhere, the European trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said, “We did everything to avoid this outcome. Over the last couple of months, I have spoken at numerous occasions with the US Secretary of Commerce.
“I have argued for the EU and the US to engage in a positive transatlantic trade agenda, and for the EU to be fully, permanently and unconditionally exempted from these tariffs. This is also what EU leaders have asked for. Throughout these talks, the US has sought to use the threat of trade restrictions as leverage to obtain concessions from the EU.
“This is not the way we do business, and certainly not between longstanding partners, friends and allies. Now that we have clarity, the EU’s response will be proportionate and in accordance with WTO rules. We will now trigger a dispute settlement case at the WTO, since these US measures clearly go against agreed international rules. We will also impose rebalancing measures and take any necessary steps to protect the EU market from trade diversion caused by these US restrictions.”
EPP group MEP Godelieve Quisthoudt-Rowohl cautioned, “It is of vital importance not to lose our temper despite good reasons for it. Higher and more tariffs create a lose-lose situation. Keep a cool head.
“Instead of betting on a win-win, Donald Trump is betting on a lose-lose situation, while losing sight of our common global EU-US problems. We will have to pay dearly for this unnecessary trade battle - with a laughing third party in Asia.”
S&D group leader Udo Bullmann called Trump’s decision “unacceptable and unjustified”, adding, “These punitive tariffs are in clear breach of international law and it is simply absurd to consider the EU a national security threat to the US. Protectionism and unilateral actions only contribute to the spiralling out of control of a crisis.
“We are not naïve free traders. On the contrary, we are committed to protecting our European workers and industries from unfair competition, dumped imports or foreign take-overs of key industries by state-owned investors. However, the way to do this is by respecting the rule-of-law, not through bullying and illegal actions.”
Guy Verhofsadt, leader of Parliament’s ALDE group, said, “Trump’s tariffs on the EU regrettably weaken the transatlantic alliance. As with Brexit, unity within the EU is now key. If we are united, we will have a strong position to face this wave of protectionism, which will benefit no one.”