France: Europe doesn’t have to be collateral damage in a US China trade dispute

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There is no reason why the European Union should suffer from a trade was between the United States and China, France’s finance minister said Saturday, with Europe pushing for full exemption from new US import tariff rates set to take effect next week.

In March, the US slapped import tariff rates against steel and aluminium products, drawing retaliation from China and raising eyebrows in Europe. The resulting backlash has triggered fears of an international trade war.

However, Europe has been pushing for a definitive carve-out from the higher duties. The 28 members of the EU argue they are not the cause of the overcapacity in the metal industry and have managed to get a temporary exemption. Other US allies, including Japan didn’t.

Those temporary exemptions are set to expire on May 1, but the US is reportedly looking to extend the deadline.

“There is no reason why the EU should be hit by new tariffs on trade from the [Trump] administration. We are not responsible for the overcapacity in steel and aluminium,” Bruno Le Maire, the French finance minister, told reporters in Sofia, Bulgaria.

“We do recognize there is a difficulty and we are ready to address that issue with our American allies, but we cannot negotiate under the pressure, and we don’t have to be collateral damage between a trade war between the United States and China,” Le Maire added.

The decision to impose duties of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminium could hurt not only those industries directly, but also carmakers and construction firms in Europe, which use those raw materials.

Before President Donald Trump took office, the US was negotiating a trade deal with the European Union, but those talks have been tabled. Trump has been generally opposed to free trade agreements, arguing they don’t favour American workers.

When asked whether Europe was willing to continue those trade talks with the US, even if for a less ambitious trade package than the original, France’s Le Maire said: “We don’t want to enter into a global trade negotiation with the United States.”

France doesn’t see the need to enter into a trade round with the US, Le Maire said, adding that French President Emmanuel Macron — who met with Trump this week in Washington — “has been very clear with President Trump during the state visit…First of all we are waiting for an exemption for the EU from the American tariffs.”