By Daniela Vincenti
(EurActiv) — The EU warned US President Donald Trump on Wednesday to step back from the brink of a trade war or it would hit flagship US products, such as peanut butter and whiskey.
EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström said a full-on transatlantic trade war was “not in anybody’s interest.”
“We are eager not to escalate this,” she told journalists on Wednesday (7 March). “We do not want this to go out of proportion, but … if it does happen we will have to take measures to protect European jobs.”
“Certain types of bourbon are on the list as are other items such as peanut butter, cranberries, orange juice,” the Trade Commissioner added.
The EU is also looking at “safeguard” measures to protect its industry — restricting the bloc’s imports of steel and aluminium to stop foreign supplies flooding the European market, which is allowed under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
Trump plans to impose a duty of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum to counter cheap imports, especially from China, that he says undermine US industry and jobs. On Tuesday, Trump lashed out at the EU trade rules saying the bloc had made it ‘impossible’ for US firms and threatened to ramp up tariffs on EU cars.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker on Friday threatened to hit big-name US brands such as Harley Davidson motorbikes and Levi’s jeans with import duties, prompting Trump to fire back a threat to tax cars from the EU.
Juncker, who on Wednesday met Lakshmi Mittal, the boss of the world’s top steelmaker ArcelorMittal, said last week the EU would “react firmly” to protect European industry.
“In a so-called trade war … nobody wins, one generally finds losers on both sides,” International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde said on Wednesday, adding that a trade war would take a “formidable” toll on global economic growth.
Malmström’s and Lagarde ’s call for caution was echoed by German Economy Minister Brigitte Zypries, who said: “I hope Trump changes his mind … It’s very important that there are advocates for this in the White House. That’s why I’m worried about the latest signals coming from the USA.”
Britain, keen to foster global trade relations as it prepares to leave the EU, said it was “very disappointed” by Trump’s plan.
In Geneva, China raised its concerns at the World Trade Organization, where 17 other WTO members also voiced misgivings.
“Many said they feared tit-for-tat retaliation which could spiral out of control, damaging the global economy and the multilateral trading system,” WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell said.
A trade official quoted Canada’s WTO ambassador as saying: “We fear that the United States may be opening a Pandora’s Box that we would not be able to close.”
In his first tweet on Wednesday, Trump showed no sign of backing down, saying the United States had lost more than 55,000 factories and 6 million manufacturing jobs and let its trade deficit soar since the first Bush administration.