BRUSSELS – European Union leaders vented their frustration Friday that they only obtained a temporary exemption to U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum and argue the measure should never have applied to their countries in the first place.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said the exemption until May 1 was an unfair way by Washington to treat loyal trans-Atlantic partners and did not bode well for any trade talks.
“It is a sort of gun to our head,” Michel said. “It is a strange way to negotiate with a partner.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May told reporters at Friday’s EU summit that the EU leaders “want to ensure that that does become a permanent exemption” since they fundamentally disagree that the EU should face tariffs based on U.S. national security grounds.
Until Washington grants them that full exemption, the EU leaders said that they reserve the right “to respond to the U.S. measures as appropriate and in a proportionate manner.” They already have a list of U.S. goods to retaliate against that includes products from bourbon to bluejeans, from motorcycles to orange juice.
Trump is planning to impose tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum. The move is aimed at China, which has been flooding the world with cheap steel and aluminum, but would hurt many other countries, including close allies like the EU. Trump’s administration gave some countries, including the EU, Canada and Mexico, a temporary exemption, pending negotiations.
EU Trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom said the plans for tariffs “are a highly unfortunate unilateral action, which goes against agreed international rules.”
The EU feels they should be targeted at other major producers.
“The EU is not the source of the global problems in the steel and aluminum sectors so the U.S. and EU should be tackling such issues together,” she said.
Both have accused China of dumping steel on world markets at unreasonably low prices, putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk.
The EU acknowledges that fundamental problems exist in the industry, but insisted there should be trans-Atlantic cooperation instead of competition, and certainly not hindered by the weight of temporary exemptions to trade sanctions.
“These discussions between allies and partners should not be subject to artificial deadlines,” Malmstrom said.
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