EU backs tariffs against US as trade war escalates

Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström [European Commission]

EU countries approved a raft of tariffs on Thursday (14 June) targeting US goods including whiskey and motorcycles in retaliation against painful duties imposed by President Donald Trump on European metals.

Europe’s move fuels a growing transatlantic trade war just days after a disastrous G7 summit in Canada at which Trump lambasted his allies on the issue and refused to adopt a joint statement.

US-Canada dispute escalates after tense G7, Europeans criticise Trump

The United States and Canada swung sharply on Sunday (10 June) toward a diplomatic and trade crisis as top White House advisers lashed out at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a day after US President Trump called him “very dishonest and weak.”

The European countermeasures aimed at €2.8 billion ($3.3 billion) of American imports come after Trump on 1 June followed through on his threat to impose tariffs on European steel and aluminium exports.

“Member states have today unanimously supported the commission’s plan for the adoption of rebalancing measures on the US tariffs on steel and aluminium,” a European Commission source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The source added that the EU tariffs would take effect “in coming days”, with other officials saying they would be implemented by the beginning of July.

Brussels first drew up the list in March when Trump initially floated the 25% tariffs on steel imports and 10% on aluminium, which also target Canada, Mexico and other close allies.

Trump starts trade war with allies, Europe to respond 'within hours'

President Donald Trump announced on Thursday (31 May) that the United States would slap tariffs on steel and aluminium from the EU, Canada and Mexico, prompting Europe to say it would respond with “counterbalancing measures within hours” in what amounts to a trade war with Washington.

From blue jeans to motorbikes and whiskey, the EU’s hit-list of products targeted for tariffs with the US reads like a catalogue of emblematic American exports.

The list does not specifically name brands but European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker spelled out in March that the bloc was “preparing import duties for US products including Harley-Davidson, bourbon and Levi’s jeans.”

‘Breeches of cotton denim’

The EU imported some €415 million worth from the US in 2017, along with another €150 million worth of whiskey without the “bourbon” designation.

Cranberries, cranberry juice, orange juice, sweetcorn and peanut butter are among the other food products targeted.

The list hits clothing including “trousers and breeches of cotton denim” along with bed linen and men’s leather footwear, eye make-up and lipsticks, plus a host of steel products.

“The EU will exercise its rights on US products valued at up to €2.8 billion of trade, as notified to the WTO (World Trade Organization),” the commission source added.

Transatlantic ties are at their lowest level for many years due to rows over a host of issues including the tariffs, the Paris climate agreement, the Iran nuclear deal and the new US embassy in Jerusalem.

But relations plumbed new depths at the weekend as Trump abruptly rejected the text of a G7 statement and bitterly insulted his Canadian host, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trump claimed America had been obliged to levy the metals tariffs as it has been exploited as the world’s “piggy bank” under existing arrangements.

His counterparts however said they were equally determined to protect “rules-based” international trade.

Trump’s outbursts were the latest in which he has clashed with America’s closest allies, even as he has had warm words for autocrats like North Korean leader Kim Jong un, with whom he had a historic meeting on Tuesday, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

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