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Germany warns against 'protectionism getting upper hand'

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Berlin (AFP)

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned Thursday against the threat of protectionism in global trade ahead of a deadline for steep US import duties on steel and aluminium imports from Europe.

Maas told reporters that international partners could have "no interest in the clock being turned back in trade policy" as a Friday deadline for the new tariffs ticked down.

"To put it clearly: protectionism and isolation with regard to free trade must be kept from getting the upper hand again," he said after talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

Trade officials from Washington and Brussels have continued discussions to find a solution, such as import quotas, that would convince US President Donald Trump to extend the exemption for the European Union from the 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent on aluminium.

But The Wall Street Journal cited people familiar with the matter saying a last-minute deal appeared unlikely, and the tariff announcement could come as early as Thursday.

Trump imposed the tariffs in March to address global oversupply of the metals, but though it was largely aimed at China it hit US allies as well.

- 'Unprecedented, deep changes' -

Wang said Beijing shared Berlin's concerns about upheaval in the international order.

"We both think that there are unprecedented deep changes in global affairs," he said.

"There are many problems -- unilateralism, protectionism. China and Germany as responsible countries... must help provide stability."

Wang said China aimed to "deepen dialogue and coordination" and announced a visit to Germany in July by Premier Li Keqiang.

The EU has vowed to hit back at the US with tariffs on American goods, including iconic items such as Harley-Davidson motorbikes, blue jeans and bourbon whiskey.

Germany, the EU's top economy, would be particularly vulnerable to the steel and aluminium tariffs due to its heavy reliance on the auto industry.

The German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK), which has calculated that autos and car parts accounted for over a quarter of Germany's 111.5 billion euros ($130.3 billion) in exports to the United States last year, said the US move "should almost be seen as a provocation".

German carmakers exported nearly half a million vehicles to the US in 2017, but they also built over 800,000 cars at American factories where they employ some 36,500 people -- and car parts producers around 80,000 more.

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