EU says talks 'the prime option' in US tariffs row


Brussels (AFP)

The EU's top trade official said Friday that "dialogue" with Washington was the bloc's "prime option" as it seeks to win exemptions from US President Donald Trump's controversial new steel and aluminium tariffs.

Brussels has already drawn up a hitlist of flagship American products to target for countermeasures if its exports are affected by the tariffs including peanut butter, bourbon whiskey and orange juice.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said the bloc was "not preparing for battle" but had to be ready to protect its industry. Earlier this week she warned the US tariffs could jeopardise thousands of European jobs.

"Dialogue is always the prime option of the European Union," Malmstroem said, adding that Brussels was "counting on being excluded" from the new duties.

The EU shares American concerns about overcapacity in the global steel sector, Malmstroem said, but warned "this is not the right way to deal with it".

"It is certainly not the right way to include Europe... because we are friends, we are allies, we work together, we cannot possibly be a threat to national security in the US US so we are counting on being excluded," the Swede added.

Trump imposed the tariffs -- 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminium -- despite repeated warnings from the EU and other allies that this could trigger a full-on trade war.

Announcing the tariffs, Trump said Canada and Mexico would be excluded and other countries could negotiate exemptions, but he singled out Germany for particular criticism.

Malmstroem said Trump's announcement was "not crystal clear" and she would seek clarification when she saw US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Brussels on Saturday for long-planned talks that are now a de facto crisis meeting.

The EU exports around five billion euros' ($4 billion) worth of steel and a billion euros' worth of aluminium to the US each year, and the European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, estimates Trump's tariffs could cost some 2.8 billion euros.

Brussels 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 rules.