French President Emmanuel Macron has warned his US counterpart Donald Trump against the implementation of planned tariffs on European steel and aluminum, saying that the controversial measure could provoke a mutually destructive “trade war.”
Macron made the remark in a telephone conversation with Trump on Friday, days after Washington announced plans to impose 25-percent tariffs on steel imports and 10-percent tariffs on aluminum.
The French leader expressed his “deep concerns,” and said the hefty tariffs due to come into effect in two weeks would “risk triggering a trade war, in which all affected countries would be losers.”
Macron also said “such measures against allied countries, who respect international trade rules, would not be effective in fighting unfair practices,” adding that the European Union (EU) would respond in a “clear and proportionate manner to all practices that are unfair or contrary to international trade rules.”
A senior official with the EU said Brussels was prepared to retaliate against the tariffs but was still seeking talks with the US over the decision to settle the dispute.
European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen said that the 28-nation bloc stood ready to take Washington to the World Trade Organization (WTO) if necessary but expressed hope that it would not be “forced” to use rebalancing measures.
A day earlier, Trump had announced that the US tariff plan would take effect in 15 days and not initially apply to Canada and Mexico. The US president also said that Washington’s close partners on security and trade could negotiate exemptions.
Trump believes the tariffs will safeguard US jobs, but economists say the measures will destroy more jobs than they create and will hurt the very US companies and workers that Trump has said he aims to protect.
The tariff plan has sparked a flurry of criticism both at home and aboard.
During his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly blamed what he called unfair trade deals and allegedly abusive practices by countries like China and Mexico for the massive US trade deficit and the loss of high-paying American factory jobs.
EU hopes for clarity from crunch US trade talks
Meanwhile, top EU trade officials are set to hold crunch talks with their US counterparts in Brussels on Saturday, expressing hope to get “clarity” on Trump’s controversial import tariffs.
EU trade Chief Cecilia Malmstrom was scheduled to meet US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Brussels on Saturday along with Japanese Economy Minister Hiroshige Seko.
Speaking to reporters before the meeting, Malmstrom criticized Trump’s “wrong” approach on the imposition of the plan, hoping to get confirmation from the US that the bloc would be excluded from the tariffs.
Malmstroem said the EU was circulating among member states a list of iconic US products to potentially target with tariffs, such as Harley Davidson motorcycles, Levi’s jeans and bourbon, so that it could respond as quickly as possible.
The German government also threw its weight behind EU’s plans to respond if Trump pressed ahead with the tariffs decision, calling for multilateral talks to address overcapacity in the steel sector.
Denouncing the tariffs as an “affront to close partners,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged dialog and warned that “no one can win in such a race to the bottom.”
According to the US Census data, America annually imports more goods and products from Europe than the continent absorbs in US goods, to the tune of a trade deficit worth over 11 billion dollars in 2017.