World Economy

Japan, Europe Seek Clarity From Crunch US Trade Talks

(From L) Robert Lighthizer, Hiroshige Seko  and Cecilia Malmstrom (From L) Robert Lighthizer, Hiroshige Seko  and Cecilia Malmstrom

Japan and EU held crunch talks with their US counterparts in Brussels on Saturday hoping to get “clarity” on President Donald Trump’s controversial new steel and aluminum tariffs.

Trump’s announcement of duties of 25% on imported steel and 10% on aluminum has stung the European Union and triggered warnings of an all-out international trade war, AFP reported.

Brussels has prepared a list of US products to hit with countermeasures if its exports are affected by the tariffs, but says it hopes to join Canada and Mexico in being exempted. Japan has decried the “grave impact” the Trump measures could have on the world economy.

The EU’s top trade official Cecilia Malmstroem and Japanese Economy Minister Hiroshige Seko began preliminary talks in Brussels ahead of the sit-down with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

The talks, initially set to address China’s over-supply of steel, have long been in the diary but after Trump’s dramatic announcement they are now a de facto crisis meeting. “Dialogue is always the prime option of the European Union,” Malmstroem told reporters on Friday, saying Brussels was “counting on being excluded” from the new duties.

She predicted a “long day” of talks on Saturday, while European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen sought to play down expectations, saying it was “a meeting, not THE meeting”.

Katainen said Brussels wanted “clarity” on how the tariffs will be implemented and was ready to enforce retaliatory measures to protect European interests if needed. “We are prepared and will be prepared if need be to use rebalancing measures,” Katainen said.

Germany—singled out for particular criticism by Trump—accused Washington of protectionism, calling the tariffs an “affront to close partners”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged dialogue and warned that “no one can win in such a race to the bottom”.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday warned his US counterpart Trump against forging ahead with the planned tariffs, saying they risked provoking a mutually destructive “trade war”.

Trump said the tariffs, which will come into effect after 15 days, will not initially apply to Canada and Mexico. He also added Australia to the list of likely carve-outs.

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