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14th Apr 2024

EU rejects US trade 'gun to the head'

  • EU trade negotiator Malmstroem is "looking forward" to talk with US counterpart Lighthizer (l) but rejetced "artificial deadlines" (Photo: European Commission)

EU leaders on Friday (23 March) expressed firmness and unity as they have entered a phoney trade war with the US after the bloc was only temporarily exempted from the tariffs on steel and aluminium imposed by president Donald Trump to protect the US industry.

At a summit in Brussels, they said that they "regret" the US decision and insisted that it "cannot be justified on the grounds of national security".

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They called for the exemption - which Trump said would expire on 1 May - to be made "permanent", and said that they "strongly support" the action by the European Commission to "ensure that the interests of the EU are fully protected".

Measures proposed by the commission include taking the US to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and tariffs on a wide range of US products.

Officials and leaders in Brussels were still in the dark on Friday over what exactly Trump would like to talk about in order to prolong the exemptions after 1 May.

But leaders ruled out any bilateral trade negotiation with the US other than to adress the problem of overcapacities on the global steel and aluminium markets and other global trade issues.

Entering such talks would be "a spiral where we would all lose," German chancellor Angela Merkel warned.



French president Emmanuel Macron was more blunt.

"We talk about everything out of principle with a friendly country that respects the rules of the WTO," he said, adding: "We don't talk about anything out of principle with a gun to our head."

Macron said that the EU would be "willing to discuss all issues" if the US abided by the WTO rules, but insisted that the EU would show "no weakness in any sector, towards any country" under the present circumstances.

EU leaders insisted on the need to maintain a dialogue with the US administration, but not within the 1 May deadline imposed by Trump.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker argued that the date was "not realistic, given the broad issues we have to discuss."

EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, the bloc's negotiator in the name of the 28 member states, said in a series of tweet that she was "look[ing] forward to pursuing a dialogue with the US", while also rejecting "artificial deadlines."

In Washington earlier this week, Malmstrom agreed with her US counterpart Robert Lighthizer to set up a working group to talk about "issues of common interest". But the format and the issues that would be on the table have not been agreed yet.

"We need to start as soon as possible," an EU source told EUobserver.

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