By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Washington says that it is moving ahead with tariffs on aluminum and steel imports from Canada, Mexico, and the European Union — ending a two-month exemption and potentially setting the stage for a trade war between the United States and some of its top allies.
U.S Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports from the EU, Canada, and Mexico would go into effect on June 1.
“We look forward to continued negotiations, both with Canada and Mexico on the one hand, and with the European Commission on the other hand, because there are other issues that we also need to get resolved,” Ross said.
But French President Emmanuel Macron rejected the suggestion of negotiations with Washington, saying Trump’s decision to impose the tariffs against U.S. allies effectively “closes the door on other talks.”
Macron, who said he would speak with Trump by telephone about the tariffs late on May 31, described the move as “an illegal decision” and “a mistake.”
Financial markets fell after the announcement by Ross raised fears of a trade war between Western allies.
The trade actions have also opened the United States to criticism that it is alienating allies and trading partners at a time when their support is needed behind Trump’s bid to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons and help stabilize the Middle East.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on May 31 that the EU would announce “counter-balancing measures” within hours to retaliate against the U.S. tariffs.
Juncker said the U.S. tariffs were “protectionism, pure and simple.”
European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said the EU was now ready to “trigger a dispute-settlement case” at the World Trade Organization (WTO) over Washington’s move.
Britain responded promptly to the announcement, with a government spokesman saing London was “deeply disappointed” the United States decided to apply the tariffs on imports from the EU on “national security grounds.”
“The U.K. and other European Union countries are close allies of the U.S. and should be permanently and fully exempted,” the British spokesman said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU “will respond in an intelligent, decisive, and joint way.”
Merkel said on May 31 that the EU had made plain to Washington that the planned tariffs are incompatible with WTO rules.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire accused the Trump administration of treating global trade like a Hollywood western, saying the U.S. tariffs were “unjustified, unjustifiable, and dangerous” to the world economy because they risk causing a trade war that will hurt growth everywhere.
“Global trade is not a Gunfight At OK Corral’,” Maire said on May 31. “It’s not about who attacks whom, and then wait and see who is still standing at the end.”
The Mexican government also announced its own countermeasures, saying it will apply equivalent tariffs on a range of goods “up to an amount matching the level of impact” from the U.S. tariffs.
“Mexico deeply deplores and condemns the decision by the United States to impose these tariffs,” the Mexican Economy Ministry said in a statement. “Mexico has stated repeatedly that this type of measure, based on national security, is neither appropriate nor justified.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described the U.S. tariffs as “totally unacceptable,” and said Canada would also announce “retaliatory measures” against the United States.
Ross said on May 31 that even if the EU, Canada, and Mexico retaliated against the U.S. metals tariffs, “it is unlikely to have much impact on the U.S. economy.”
But a leading Republican in the U.S. Congress, Representative Kevin Brady, also criticized the tariffs against Canada, Mexico, and the EU, saying they were “hitting the wrong target.”
Brady, who is the chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, said Trump’s administration will need to provide answers to Congress about the damage the move will have on local businesses in the United States.
“When it comes to unfairly traded steel and aluminum, Mexico, Canada, and Europe are not the problem. China is,” Brady said.
The U.S. allies initially received exemptions when President Donald Trump declared global tariffs on imported metals earlier in 2018.
Those temporary waivers were extended through May while the White House sought negotiated concessions.
Ross said Australia, Argentina, and Brazil — which also initially received temporary tariff waivers — had agreed to “limitations on the volume” of metal they ship to the United States in exchange for permanent exemptions.