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EU seeks last-minute tariff reprieve to avoid global trade fight

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The European Union is seeking a last-minute deal with the US to avoid inflaming global trade tensions as US President Donald Trump prepares to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports at the end of the month.

Brussels

THE European Union is seeking a last-minute deal with the US to avoid inflaming global trade tensions as US President Donald Trump prepares to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports at the end of the month.

"We're at the beginning of a decisive week," German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told reporters in Brussels on Monday. "We have to try to avoid higher tariffs if possible and that means we're ready to agree with the Americans on points that are necessary in our mutual interest."

The US in March imposed levies of 25 per cent on steel imports and 10 per cent on aluminium imports, giving some regions, including the EU, a temporary reprieve that will expire on June 1.

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The 28-nation bloc has threatened to retaliate with duties on 2.8 billion euros (S$4.4 billion) of American products if tariffs go into effect. Washington offered the possibility of quotas set at 90 per cent of last year's imports as an alternative to the tariffs, but the EU has said it would only accept a cap that wouldn't be lower than last year's level.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the EU's trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom will meet this week at an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development event in Paris, where trade ministers will hold intensive talks before the waiver deadline.

And even though the EU has said it won't negotiate with the US until it has received an unconditional reprieve from the tariffs, Mr Altmaier said the bloc is willing to discuss trade in industrial goods and recognition of standards.

Europe's resolve against US actions that EU President Donald Tusk has described as "capricious assertiveness", varies between member states, as export-dependent Germany has adopted a more conciliatory tone than France. BLOOMBERG