EU 'confident' of securing exemption from Trump's US steel tariffs

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
Surrounded by steel and aluminium workers, President Trump signed a ‘Section 232 Proclamation’ on steel imports in the White House on Thursday. (Getty)

The EU has claimed it is ‘confident’ it will secure an exemption from the US tariffs on steel and aluminium formally adopted by President Donald Trump. 

Canada and Mexico have already been spared the import tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium. 

And President Trump said other ‘real friends’ could apply for an exemption from the tariffs before they come into force in 15 days’ time. 

And on Friday, Jyrki Katainen, the European Commission’s vice president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, said he expected the EU to be granted an exemption. 

In an address to the American Chamber of Commerce EU (AmCham EU) conference in Brussels, he said: ‘Our preference is of course to avoid [retaliation] and convince the US to exclude EU steel and aluminium from the scope of the measures they envisage. 

‘President Trump has signalled that allies can be excluded and we’re confident that the whole EU will be treated as such.’

AmCham EU chairman Maxime Bureau added: ‘We appreciate in some respect that the US President is open potentially to exempt allies and as he put it ‘real friends’. 

‘US business in the EU think that the EU should be exempt from these tariffs.’

The EU said it too was concerned about Chinese steel dumping.

Katainen’s speech struck a more conciliatory tone with the Trump administration than the message from EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker earlier in the week. 

Setting out plans to retaliate with tariffs on a range of EU products, Juncker said: ‘We can also do stupid.’

Katainen said EU leaders share the Trump administration’s ‘frustration’ over Chinese steel dumping and understood the ‘criticism of globalisation of being unfair in certain respects’.

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‘We have been hit equally as the US industry by overcapacity and have had to make painful adjustment and take anti-dumping measures to protect us,’ he said. 

But he added that the US would be ‘shooting at the wrong target’ if it slapped tariffs on EU exports and set out the Commission’s three step plan to retaliate if necessary: 

  1. Launching a legal dispute at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against the US tariffs.
  2. Take measures to safeguard European industry affected by the tariffs.
  3. Introduce tariffs on American goods such as motorcycles, clothes and alcohol. 

The Commission vice-president explained: ‘We would use the opportunity offered by WTO rules to take calibrated measures on a limited number of American products to rebalance benefits which we have given to the US in the past.’

And he took the chance to send a strong message to White House when asked what he thought counted as ‘real friends.’

‘Real friends are usually those who understand each other and who play by the same rules,’ he replied. 

Emmanuel Macron’s Europe minister, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, gave France’s backing to that position in his speech at the same conference. 

Traders watch President Donald Trump’s announcement on steel and aluminum tariffs on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on March 8. (Getty)

‘A unilateral measure hurting our economic interest cannot remain without response,’ he said. 

‘It’s not the best way. That’s why we’re very committed to dialogue and hopefully the contacts between leaders will have a positive outcome. 

‘But we shall adopt in a swift manner proportionate and WTO compliant measures to send a message that such a move does not remain without consequences.’

European Parliament trade committee chair Bernd Lange said President Trump’s insistence that steel tariffs are necessary for national security reasons “is not taken seriously by anyone.”

The German Social Democrat MEP added: “President Trump is trying to impose the rule of the powerful, instead of championing the rule of law.

“The EU will react proportionately and will continue to engage in a dialogue with the US.”

But Business Europe general secretary Markus Beyrer suggested the EU should use President Trump’s logic to win an exemption.

“Regrettably the EU, a key strategic ally of the US has not been exempted from this decision,” he said.

“The decision will enter into force in 15 days and we should do the utmost during this time to exclude the EU on security grounds”.

Meanwhile, European trade unions appealed to their colleagues in the US who are overwhelmingly in favour of the tariffs.

IndustriAll Europe deputy general secretary Luis Colunga said: ‘’The real issue facing American metal workers is global overcapacity, with third countries overproducing steel and aluminium and driving down their prices through both non-market conditions and the absence of real labour rights.

“There is no overcapacity in European or American production and our workers should not bear the brunt of third countries’ unfair trade practices.”