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Top E.U. trade official says she will seek exemption to Trump tariffs

The European Union’s top trade official said Friday that the 28-nation bloc would seek to be excluded from President Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs, a day after he signed off on them with the caveat that countries with a “security relationship” could seek an exemption.

E.U. Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said that Europe shared American concerns about China’s support for its steel industry, but she said that the tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum were the wrong way to address the issue.

“We share the concern of overcapacity in the steel sector,” Malmström told a conference in Brussels. “This is not the right way to deal with it.”

She said that E.U. officials were still trying to understand Trump’s Thursday announcement, in which he slammed countries around the world for unfair trade practices but left open the door to trade partners to seek exemptions. Canada, which is the top source for U.S. steel imports, and Mexico are both excluded from the tariffs.

Trump said these exemptions were to facilitate negotiations for a revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). 

Malmström will meet Saturday in Brussels with U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer and Japanese Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko for a meeting that was originally scheduled to discuss cooperation about Chinese trade issues but has now transformed into something more adversarial.

E.U. policymakers have readied about $3.5 billion in countermeasures that will strike against symbolically important areas in the United States: bourbon, motorcycles and blue jeans — which are manufactured in the home districts of congressional leaders. They also plan to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization.

Trump has cited national security concerns as the legal basis for the tariffs. European policymakers have dismissed that as nonsensical, since most U.S. steel imports come from its military allies.

“We are friends, we are allies, we work together. We cannot possibly be a threat to national security in the U.S.,” Malmstrom said. 

“We count on being excluded,” she said, adding that the policy announced by Trump was “not crystal clear.”


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