EU member states shocked by US tariffs, seek response

EURACTIV’s network reported on the different reaction in the bloc as well as the main challenges each country faces in the trade row with Washington. [Shutterstock]

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Τhe US administration has decided to impose 10-25% tariffs on European goods after a World Trade Organisation (WTO) had ruled in favour of the US and against the EU over subsidies for Airbus, a European aircraft manufacturer.

The tariffs concern imports of EU products worth a total of  €6.8 billion, ranging from Italian cheeses to French wines and Scotch whiskey. The decision has triggered strong reactions across Europe and threatens to escalate an already heated transatlantic trade row.

In Brussels, the European Commission said applying countermeasures now would be “shortsighted and counterproductive”. The Commission stated that it aims to negotiate and find a comprising solution, adding that US consumers would be the most affected.

EU wine producers are not happy at all. They have said that the loss in US market share for the French, German, Spanish and UK operators “would take a long time to recover”.

Europe’s food and drink industry (FoodDrinkEurope) said in a statement: “Europe’s food and drink manufacturers, 99% of which are small and medium-sized enterprises, could end up paying the price for a dispute originating in a completely unrelated sector.”

EURACTIV’s network looked into the different reactions and main challenges the bloc could face because of this trade row with Washington.

Germany wants a tough reaction

In Berlin, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has backed a tough line against the US. “The EU will now have to react and (…) will probably impose punitive tariffs,” he said, noting that the US rejected the EU’s offer for an amicable solution and instead went down the confrontation path.

“We think this is wrong because workers and consumers on both sides of the Atlantic are paying the price,” the minister added.

Germany’s economy will be particularly affected when it comes to products such as tools and camera lenses. But the real fear for Germany is for its aviation and automobile industries.

According to a study by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, punitive tariffs would hit Germany and France particularly hard, as the additional 10% levy on the import of aeroplanes will affect the Airbus consortium. However, the situation might be completely reversed if the WTO, in its next decision expected in six to eight months’ time, empowers the EU to introduce punitive tariffs on US goods for American subsidies to Boeing.

What Germany, as a country that relies heavily on its automobile industry, fears the most is the introduction of auto tariffs should the EU-US trade war escalate. (Claire Stam,

Madrid seeks ‘common position’  

In Spain, the US tariffs are expected to deal a severe blow to the agricultural sector. “This is not good news for Spain, in particular for the agri-food sectors,” the Spanish Minister of Agriculture Luis Planas said, adding that it shows a lack of respect for multilateral trade based on rules.

EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported that Spanish cheese, wines and olive oil would be among the products directly affected. According to the financial newspaper “Cinco Días”, exports of Spanish wine and cheese to the US were worth over €700 million in 2018.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, as well as other public departments and ministries, will meet in the coming days with all sectors affected by the tariffs. The aim will be, if action is deemed necessary, to reach consensus on “a common position” on how to react or respond to the US measures.


Paris: ‘Hit at Coca-Cola’

At the end of August, when Trump raised the possibility of a tax on French wines, former MEP and president of the regional council of the Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur region, had sent two cases of rosé to the US President, offering him to drink the rosé rather than tax the beverage. But it seems it did have any big effect.

The French federation of wine and spirits exporters deplored the US decision and called for a negotiated solution. The US is the first export market, though other markets like China have grown recently. Wine of less than 14% alcohol is concerned, meaning practically all French wines.

Another sector affected is cheese: Many French types of cheese will also be overtaxed between 10 and 25%, but not Roquefort, which had already been taxed at 100% by the Clinton administration in retaliation to the ban on the import of hormone-treated beef into Europe. The president of the “Fromage de Terroirs” association, Véronique Richez-Lerouge, proposed a tax on RTL in return for Coca-Cola. “We are in a trade war and I think that at some point we also need to tax American products or raw materials,” she said.


Rome: avoiding further damage

Italy’s government has reiterated its commitment to persuade US President Trump to change his mind on punitive tariffs, at least on Italian products. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Rome for the next few days. In two weeks, Italian President Mattarella and foreign affairs minister Luigi Di Maio will fly to Washington, where they will also meet the US President.“We’ll do everything to limit further damages,” said PM Conte, adding that they’re also working on a plan to ensure compensation at the EU level.

But Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova made no secret of her anger. “Italy should not pay for something that is not our responsibility,” she argued. Bellanova pointed out that Italy got dragged into the trade war, despite the country not being part of the Airbus consortium.

Among the Italian products hit by an additional 25% levy, there are almost all kinds of cheese and other dairy products, as well as ham and pork meat products and liquors, while extra virgin olive oil and prosecco remained untainted by tariffs.


Greek products such as cheese, yoghurt, fruits and processed milk will be mainly affected by the US tariffs. With regards to peaches, which were already hit by the Russian embargo, the loss for compost industries in Greece is estimated €50 million, an expert told EURACTIV’s partner Athens-Macedonian News Agency.

Zagreb does not expect a huge impact: “Based on the information we have, we think the new tariffs the US will impose on products from Croatia won’t have a significant direct impact on Croatian exports to the US or a significant direct impact on the Croatian economy,” the Croatian Chamber of Commerce said in a statement.

Similarly in Prague. The impact of the US tariffs on select goods should not exceed a loss of €40 million for Czech companies, analysts have suggested according to the Czech News Agency. These measures would affect them indirectly, via exporting Czech products to other EU countries, which trade with the US. The real threat is further escalation of the dispute between the EU and USA, they claim.

(Sarantis Michalopoulos, | Fernando Heller| Claire Stam,|| Gerardo Fortuna, | Željko Trkanjec,| Ondřej Plevák,


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“It was an extremely unequal battle with Turkey because it turned out that Turkey did not care about the rules of the EU common market. We found a serious problem in the EU common market and the treaty signed between the European Commission, the European Union and Turkey,” said Plevneliev, adding that the treaty does not oblige Turkey to adhere to the rules of the common market.

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[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck]

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