Germany breaks ranks with rush White House meeting on tariffs

Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen (R) pictured in discussion with EU trade chief Cecilia Malmström. [European Commission]

The new German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier will meet with senior US officials on Monday and Tuesday (19-20 March) to discuss the Trump administration’s tariffs on steel and aluminium shortly before EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström arrives in Washington, officials confirmed to EURACTIV.

A spokesperson for the German government said that Altmaier will have “a couple of meetings” with the US administration, but did not confirm whether Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross would attend them.

EU officials did not confirm on Friday the exact day of Malmström’s meeting with Ross. But the German spokesperson said that she is expected to arrive in Washington on Tuesday or Wednesday.

It is the second time the EU trade chief will meet with US officials. Malmström discussed the matter with Trump’s envoy for trade Robert Lighthizer last weekend.

But an EU official said that Lighthizer did not clarify during the meeting whether European steel will be affected by the tariffs.

The Europeans want to find a way out of the tariffs on steel (25%) and aluminium (10%) that US President Donald Trump adopted last week.

Trump signs sweeping tariffs, defying trade war warnings

US President Donald Trump slapped steep trade tariffs on foreign steel and aluminium yesterday (8 March), drawing sharp protests from allies at home and abroad as the contentious move raised the spectre of a global trade war.

But the Commission and Germany could arrive to the meeting with different approaches.

The German official said that there is “some room for discussion” and suggested that Altmaier could bring some proposals to the negotiating table, but did not give further details.

However the Commission insists that the Union “will not negotiate our exemption”, an official said.

Malmström would make the European case by reminding Trump administration officials that the EU and the US are longstanding partners, also on security matters.

EU warns UK not to seek unilateral exemptions from Trump’s tariffs

The European Commission stressed on Friday (9 March) that Europeans will act “as a bloc” in the face of US steel and aluminium tariffs, after the UK announced that it would negotiate directly with Washington to find a way out for itself.

Germany’s bilateral meeting came after UK Trade Minister Liam Fox suggested that his government could seek the US’ “pardon” to be excluded from the tariffs.

The Commission warned London that a unilateral exemption would be illegal.

The German spokesperson denied that they would be seeking a unilateral deal with the US. Berlin admits that Malmström is the lead interlocutor on this issue as trade policy is an EU matter. Contacts are ongoing between Altmaier and Malmström’s teams.

But the German official added that the US tariffs and the risk of a trade war are “very important for Europe and for Germany”.

Germany is the EU’s main exporter of steel to the US. In addition, Trump has threatened German carmakers including Mercedes and BMW if Europe finally activates its countermeasures to punish US exports to the European market.

Trump is against maintaining trade talks with blocs of countries, including the EU or his Pacific neighbours. Instead, he told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he wanted to reach a bilateral trade deal with Berlin.

Tusk puts Trump’s tariff push on EU summit agenda

Warning of “a serious trade dispute” between Washington and the rest of the world, Commission President Donald Tusk said yesterday (7 March) the leaders of the bloc would hold emergency talks on the issue on the occasion of their 22-23 March summit.

Additional EU tariffs

Altmaier’s visit to Washington was announced as the Commission published on Friday the US products that could be affected by the EU’s countermeasures.

The executive attached a second list of tariffs targeting US exports worth €3.6 billion. It would be activated once the World Trade Organisation rules against the US tariffs, or three years after the restrictions enter into force.

EU 'will react firmly' to US steel, aluminium tariffs

The EU “will react firmly” to defend its interests against steep US trade tariffs on steel and aluminium, the European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said yesterday (1 March).

A first list of products could be activated without waiting for the WTO’s decision, given that the rules of the organisation authorise activating “rebalancing” measures for products affected by tariffs that haven’t registered an export increase.

The EU measure would target emblematic US brands, including Levi’s, Harley Davidson, or products like bourbon and orange juice.

The impact of the first list of US exports to the EU market would be around €2.8 billion, as was previously announced by EU officials.

The executive will now give 10 days to member states and stakeholders to react to the lists. Following the entry into force of the US tariffs next Friday, the EU will have 90 days to notify its countermeasures to the WTO.

However, the potential activation of the “rebalancing” measures would come at a later stage, EU officials said, and would depend on the outcome of the talks with the US administration.

The total economic impact of the EU tariffs on US exports would be €6.4 billion, which is equal to the value of the steel and aluminium sent across the Atlantic.

The US president offered exceptions to global partners if countries meet his demands on security cooperation or market access.

But the EU has complained that the White House has not been clear about how to secure such a “pardon”.

The Union is also confused about what would happen next Friday, once the US tariffs enter into force, if both sides are still in talks.

MEPs back Commission on rule-based response to Trump on tariffs

EU trade chief Cecilia Malmstöm said on Wednesday (14 March) that the European Commission is prepared to put in place its own safeguard measures, in line with international obligations, as a response to US tariffs.

An EU official said that “hopefully” the US administration would not apply any duties as they would need more time to assess the situation. “That is what we would expect,” the source added.

However, the same official revealed that Trump’s exemption would be limited, as they have been told by their US counterparts that Washington will apply a quota to European steel imports.

These are some of the points that Malmström will try to clarify during her meeting with Ross, the EU official explained.

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