Trump’s steel tariffs are wrong, and EU should be excluded from them, trade chief says

President Donald Trump’s approach to steel overcapacity is wrong, the European Union’s (EU) trade chief said Friday, hoping to get confirmation from the U.S. that the bloc will be excluded from the new tariffs.

Trump fuelled concerns of a potential trade war on Thursday, when signing two proclamations that will lead to tariffs on imported steel and aluminium. Canada and Mexico are exempt from the tariffs. The EU, which has presented counter-measures to respond to Trump’s tariffs, is hoping that the U.S. will remove the group of 28 nations from the list.

Speaking at a panel discussion on Friday in Brussels, Cecilia Malmstrom, the European Union’s trade commissioner, criticized Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium products.

“We had been in talks with our American friends for quite some time to explain to them that whereas we share the concerns over overcapacity in the steel sector, this is not the right way to deal with it,” Malmstrom said.

Western countries, including the U.S., Italy and Belgium, have been hit by a collapse in steel prices. Lower demand for the product and, until recently, rising production in China, have led to job losses in the industry and lower prices.

“And it is certainly not the right way to include Europe in that because we are friends, we are allies, we work together, we cannot possibly be a threat to national security in the U.S. so we are counting on being excluded,” the Swedish politician said.

On Wednesday, the European Commission announced it will raise import duties on U.S. bourbon, peanut butter, cranberries and orange juice if President Donald Trump would move ahead with tariffs on steel and aluminum.

The EU also said at the time that it would take the case to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and coordinate with other trade partners against the proposed U.S. tariffs.

Trump backed his decision to impose tariffs on the basis of internal or national security, which the EU has dubbed as “deeply unjust.”

“We cannot see how the European Union’s friends and allies in NATO, can be a threat to national security in the U.S. We find that assumption deeply unjust,” Malmstrom told the press on Wednesday.

Malmstrom is due to meet Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative in Brussels on Saturday. She said she will ask for clarity from the U.S. as to whether the EU will be excluded from the tariffs.

“We hope that we can get the confirmation that the EU is excluded from this and that we can go on to continue our dialogue on how to deal with the problem with the U.S. and Japan and others,” she said.

“If not, well we have been very clear that we think this is not in compliance with WTO, so we will go to WTO possibly with some other friends…and we are also preparing with the member states a list of rebalancing measure that could possibly enter into force. We hope that will not be the case of course, because nobody has an interest of escalating this situation, but if we have to do that, that’s what we will do,” she added.