Tusk urges EU to 'stick to guns' in US trade row

Brussels (AFP) –


EU President Donald Tusk pressed European leaders Tuesday to "stick to their guns" in talks with Washington to exempt Europe from controversial US tariffs on steel and aluminium exports.

In March US President Donald Trump unveiled a wave of blanket tariffs on metals imports, granting only temporary exemptions to key allies including Europe.

The EU is exempt until June 1 from the duties of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminium, with the US demanding greater access to the European market in order to grant a permanent exemption.

"Tomorrow night I will propose we stick to our guns," said Tusk in a letter to EU leaders before they meet at a dinner in Sofia on Wednesday, partly devoted to the subject.

"This is the only way to protect European interests," said Tusk.

"But we need to be sure that we have done everything in our power, and within the limits of the international trade rules, to avoid a negative scenario," added Tusk, a former Polish prime minister.

To prepare, Europe has lined up its own punitive tariffs on American imports, including iconic items such as Harley-Davidson motorbikes, blue jeans and bourbon whiskey.

But Europeans have committed for now not to use them.

Behind their message of unity and firmness, Europeans are studying several scenarios to put an end to the trade row, short of triggering the countermeasures.

The European Commission, which handles trade talks for the bloc, recently opened the door to a "restricted" trade agreement with the US, which would only cover tariffs on industrial and agricultural products.

Germany is in favour of such an opening, unlike France, which fears the spectre of the very unpopular TTIP, the major trade agreement negotiated by the EU with the US, but dropped when the protectionist Trump came to power.

Meanwhile some member states are reported to be open to accepting minimal quotas on steel and aluminium from the US, which would limit their exports at near current levels.

The EU and US have spoken almost ten times to resolve the conflict since the tariffs were first announced in March.

"I hope to get a reasonable conclusion," US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Monday, but "if not they will go into effect."