The EU’s Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said on Tuesday (22 May) there were “signals” from the US administration that it would impose tariffs on EU’s steel and aluminium exports or enforce other restrictions, as she warned the bloc’s steelmakers to prepare for the worst.
Speaking to reporters after the Trade Council, Malmström voiced doubt as to whether the EU’s offer to avoid a trade dispute with US President Donald Trump would be sufficient.
“Discussions are continuing. Is this [the offer] going to be enough? I am not sure, frankly,” she said.
At a meeting in Sofia last week, EU leaders endorsed a European Commission proposal, including the review of market access to certain US products, including cars.
Trump’s team followed the discussions in Sofia with “great interest,” Malmström said.
She argued that the Commission’s four-point plan represents the foundation of a “constructive agenda” not only to solve the bilateral differences but also to address the “core” of the current tensions: steel overcapacity.
Trump granted a temporary exemption to Europe on the tariffs but set 1 June as a deadline for finding a solution. His ultimate goal is to reduce the US’s trade deficit with Europe.
If he is not satisfied with the European offer, he could impose 25% and 10% tariffs on Europe’s steel and aluminium exports to the US, respectively.
“There have been signals from the US that exemptions will not be prolonged,” Malmström warned on Tuesday. “So either they [the tariffs] will be imposed on us as of 1 June or there will be other sorts of limiting measures,” she told reporters.
During the discussions among the EU-US teams, the possibility of introducing a generous quota to the European steel and aluminium exports was discussed. But member states and EU officials questioned this option, as it would represent an illegal solution and would still harm European exporters.
Malmström said she was in close contact with her US counterpart Wilbur Ross and spoke with him several times per week.
She said she expects Ross to be “honest” with her later this week and tell her his recommendation to Trump. But she doubted whether the US president would follow Ross’s advice.
Speaking at the same press conference, the Bulgarian Economy Minister Emil Karanikolov highlighted the importance of Europe maintaining a united front.
Diplomats noted in recent days that Germany was pushing for the start of trade negotiations with the US administration in order to avoid the tariffs and a trade war with Europe.
However, some countries, including the Netherlands and France, were against giving in to the unpredictable US president.