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The EU Steels For Tariffs


The White House has announced it is again imposing tariffs on several key allies - the European Union, Canada and Mexico. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross today announced that steel and aluminum from those countries will face tariffs at 25 and 10 percent, respectively, starting at midnight tonight. For more on the potential impact of this move, we're joined now by the EU ambassador to the U.S. David O'Sullivan. Ambassador, welcome to the program.


MARTIN: This threat of new U.S. tariffs has been looming for a while. Now it looks like they're going to happen. How will the EU respond?

O'SULLIVAN: Well, first let me say that we're extremely disappointed. We had hoped for a different decision, and we think that this is the wrong decision. Cecilia Malmstrom, our trade commissioner, said today is a bad day for world trade. We have done everything we can to avoid this outcome. We've engaged with the U.S. administration. We have put forward a positive agenda of how we could increase trade between us in a constructive way. We believe that these tariffs are not justified and will therefore use our rights under the World Trade Organization to take measures to protect our interests. We will take a WTO case against the action. And we will use our right to apply rebalancing tariffs on an equivalent amount of U.S. exports.

MARTIN: Tariffs on products like Kentucky Bourbon, Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

O'SULLIVAN: Those are probably the ones that grab the headlines. It's quite a long list of a wide range of products - from industrial through to agricultural products. But, yes, we have had this list ready for some time. And we've been preparing for this moment even if we believe we have done everything to avoid getting into this place. We really would have preferred to be engaging in constructive discussions rather than having to rebalance against what we consider are unfair and unjustified tariffs on perfectly legitimate European exports.

MARTIN: Is this the beginning of a trade war between Europe and the U.S.?

O'SULLIVAN: I hope not. It's more of a skirmish than a war at this stage, given the overall volume of trade compared to - given the volume of trade compared to the overall volume of trade. But it's not a good sign when trade partners end up having this kind of disagreement and breaking the rules of the World Trade Organization, which are designed to ensure orderly progress of world trade and to avoid this kind of disruptive tariff imposition.

MARTIN: The EU has its own problems with excess steel flooding its markets as well. Does that make you more sympathetic to the Trump administration's position here?

O'SULLIVAN: Now, we have been highly sympathetic to Trump's administration's position - vis-a-vis overcapacity in China and the consequences which this has had for American steel producers and for European steel and aluminum producers. And we are more than willing to make common cause with this administration on that common concern. What we don't understand is why in those circumstances it becomes necessary to impose tariffs on European exports, which are not at all the source of the problem and which indeed are valuable inputs to the American production process - helping American companies produce quality products which they either sell domestically or export.

MARTIN: You think the U.S.-European relationship is still intact?

O'SULLIVAN: I think the relationship is extremely solid. But today, we've had an unfortunate development. But we will continue to try to work closely as we always do.

MARTIN: David O'Sullivan is the EU ambassador to the U.S. Thank you so much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

O'SULLIVAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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