Nations Threaten Retaliation for Trump’s Steel Tariffs Plan

BERLIN — The European Union, Germany, Canada and other nations have threatened retaliation against the United States after President Trump vowed to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

Denunciations flowed in on Friday from governments, lawmakers, metals makers and labor unions.

Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said on Friday that the government “rejects” the tariffs, adding that such measures could lead to a global trade war, which “can’t be in anyone’s interest.”

Hans Jürgen Kerkhoff, president of the German Steel Federation, said on Friday:

He called on the bloc to take action, through the World Trade Organization.

Simon Clarke, a Conservative member of Britain’s Parliament and vice chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Steel and Metal Related Industries, wrote on Twitter on Friday:

Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of Community Union, a British labor union, also denounced the move on Twitter:

He called on Prime Minister Theresa May to ensure that steel products exported by Britain were exempt from the proposed tariffs.

The global reactions hinted at a looming trade war if Mr. Trump followed through on campaign promises of an “America First” trade policy. He told industry executives on Thursday that he planned to levy penalties of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports from all countries.

On Friday, the president doubled down on his promise in a Twitter post: “When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win.”

He added later, “If you don’t have steel, you don’t have a country!”

Pressed for reaction to Mr. Trump’s first tweet, which was sent in the course of a regular weekly government news conference, Mr. Seibert declined to comment, except to say, “The German government has not changed its position in the past 18 minutes.”

The White House has said that the tariff details remain to be worked out, and Mr. Seibert said the German government was awaiting the exact details before assessing the scope of the impact.

But Germany made clear that Berlin viewed such measures as damaging to the country’s steel industry. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said he viewed the proposal with “great concern” and defended his country’s practices in the industry.

The United States is the most important export country for German rolled steel products and the second-most important destination for the European Union, after Turkey, according to official government statistics.

Mr. Gabriel said, “Such a sweeping blow from the U.S. would reverberate around the world, but our exports and jobs would be among the hardest in the world hit.”

Dieter Kempf, head of the Federation of German Industries, warned the Mr. Trump was risking a “spiral of protectionism” that in the end would cost American jobs, as well as those in Germany and the rest of Europe.

But Mr. Kempf urged everyone to “keep a cool head” in an effort to avoid feeding the flames of a global trade war. “A new wave of protectionism would quickly affect the Germany as a trading nation,” he said. “Roughly one in four jobs in the country depend on exports, and in the metals industry, more than every second job.”

Bruno Le Maire, the French economy minister, said in reaction to the Trump administration’s plans on tariffs, “These unilateral measures are not acceptable.”

Mr. Le Maire, speaking to reporters in Paris, said the tariffs would have a “major impact” on the European economy and on a number of French companies. He said that the steel and aluminum industries were in a “particularly fragile” situation and that certain countries practiced “dumping” and “massive subsidies” that distorted trade.

“American authorities know this perfectly well,” he said. “That is the topic that needs to be addressed, and not another.”

He called for “a common European and American response,” adding, “A trade war between Europe and the United States will only result in losers.”

Mr. Le Maire said he would discuss the issue with his European counterparts in the coming days and weeks.

Officials around the world have been voicing varying degrees of dismay and anger since the proposal was unveiled on Thursday.

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, said: “We will not sit idly while our industry is hit with unfair measures that put thousands of European jobs at risk. The E.U. will react firmly and commensurately to defend our interests. The Commission will bring forward in the next few days a proposal for W.T.O.-compatible countermeasures against the U.S. to rebalance the situation.”

Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said on Thursday, “Should restrictions be imposed on Canadian steel and aluminum products, Canada will take responsive measures to defend its trade interests and workers.”

The United States has much to lose in a metals trade war with Canada, crucial strategic ally and major trading partner, Ms. Freeland said. She noted that the United States has a steel trade surplus with its northern neighbor, which is both the largest buyer of American steel and the largest seller of steel to the United States.

Australia’s trade minister, Steven Ciobo, said on Friday that Mr. Trump’s action would spark retaliatory measures that would hurt everyone. “The imposition of a tariff like this will do nothing other than distort trade and, ultimately, we believe, will lead to a loss of jobs,” he said.

At a daily briefing, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said, “China urges the United States to exercise restraint in using trade protectionism tools, and comply with multilateral trade rules, so as to make positive contributions to the international economic and trade order.”

She noted that the “steel and aluminum industries in various countries are facing difficulties,” and added that all countries should jointly “cooperate to explore solutions instead of taking ‘beggar thy neighbor,’ unilateral trade measures.”

The countries hit hardest by the proposed tariffs would be Canada, Mexico, Brazil and South Korea, which together account for almost half of United States steel imports.

The United States is also a substantial market for Britain’s steel industry. In an emailed statement on Friday, UK Steel, an industry group, said that almost 15 percent of Britain’s steel exports or 360 million pounds ($496 million) a year went to the United States.

Richard Warren, the group’s head of policy said: “This would be a unilateral and extremely blunt approach to what is a complex global problem of overcapacity in the steel sector.”

He added, “Whilst we all too well understand the frustrations of the U.S. sector, measures such as these smack of short-termism, protectionism and would be rife with unintended consequences for global trade and for the users of steel in the U.S.”

Content originally published on https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/02/business/europe-steel-tariffs-trump.html by MELISSA EDDY, CHAD BRAY and STANLEY REED