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EU set for crunch talks with US over trade tariffs after warning Britain against seeking its own deal

Top EU trade officials are set to hold crunch talks with their US counterparts in Brussels this morning hoping to get “clarity” on Donald Trump’s controversial new steel and aluminium tariffs.

As Australia became the latest country to apparently win an exemption from duties of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminium, Brussels is hoping that it, too, can be excluded from the US president’s proposed tariffs.  

It has also warned Britain that it faces huge fines from the EU if it secures a UK-only exemption. 

Mr Trump’s announcement has stung the European Union and triggered warnings of an all-out international trade war.

Brussels has prepared a list of US products to hit with countermeasures if its exports are affected by the tariffs, but says it hopes to join Canada, Mexico and now Australia in being exempted.

The EU’s top trade official Cecilia Malmstroem will meet US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Brussels from 9.00am (8am UK time) along with Japanese Economy Minister Hiroshige Seko.

European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Tapani Katainen speaks during a media conference regarding steel tariffs 


The talks have long been in the diary but after Mr Trump’s dramatic announcement they are now a de facto crisis meeting.

“Dialogue is always the prime option of the European Union,” Ms Malmstroem told reporters on Friday, saying Brussels was “counting on being excluded” from the new duties.

She predicted a “long day” of talks on Saturday, while European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen sought to play down expectations, saying it was “a meeting, not THE meeting”.

Mr Katainen said Brussels wanted “clarity” on how the tariffs would be implemented and was ready to enforce retaliatory measures to protect European interests if needed.

“We are prepared and will be prepared if need be to use rebalancing measures,” Mr Katainen said.

Along with a huge range of steel products, the EU’s hit list of flagship American products lined up for counter measures includes peanut butter, bourbon whiskey and denim jeans.

Liam Fox, the British Trade Secretary, said he would use a trip to Washington next week to secure a British carve-out from the tariffs.

However, the European Commission is in charge of the common trade policy of all 28 member states, including Britain. Until the UK leaves the bloc, it will have the same “rights and obligations” as any member nation.

EU sources confirmed that a British breach of trust would be looked on dimly by Michel Barnier, the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator, and sour the ongoing talks and future trade negotiations.

“The UK has to respect the rules,” a senior EU official told the Telegraph. “I don’t think there’s any question that if Mr Fox was going to decide to negotiate on this issue, he would be acting against the rule of law, against the rules of the EU.”

Mr Trump said the tariffs, which will come into effect after 15 days, will not initially apply to Canada and Mexico. He also added Australia to the list of likely carve-outs on Saturday.

Mr Turnbull went a step further, saying he was “very pleased the President was able to confirm that he would not have to impose tariffs on Australian steel and aluminum.”

There appeared some doubt between the two countries over Mr Trump’s choice of words. While the president highlighted the nations’ military and trade relationships, Mr Turnbull moved to clarify Mr Trump’s comment about a new “security agreement,” saying the president was referring to the legal paperwork that would lock the exemption into place.

Mr Turnbull added Australia had “the closest possible military and security alliance with the United States and it gets closer all of the time.”

Australia buys around 60 percent of its military assets from the US, allows U.S. marines to rotate through Darwin every year, and swaps intelligence as part of the “Five Eyes” alliance also including Britain, New Zealand and Canada.

“Our trade relationship, as the president acknowledges, is a fair and reciprocal one,” Mr Turnbull said. “It’s absolutely, it’s a level playing field and, in fact, the U.S. has a large trade surplus with Australia.” 

The EU exports around five billion euros’ (£4.4 billion) worth of steel and a billion euros’ worth of aluminium to the US each year, and the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, estimates Mr Trump’s tariffs could cost some 2.8 billion euros (£2.5 billion).

Brussels is also looking at “safeguard” measures to protect its industry – restricting the bloc’s imports of steel and aluminium to stop foreign supplies flooding the European market, which is allowed under World Trade Organisation rules.

Article Source : https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/03/10/eu-set-crunch-talks-us-trade-tariffs-warning-britain-against/

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