Trade war: ‘Europe United’ as European Union and Mexico respond to U.S. tariffs

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross leaves his hotel in Beijing

US President Donald Trump promised to impose tariffs, claiming trade across the Atlantic was a one-way street.

Some stocks of US companies that could be adversely affected by the tariffs, or by possible retaliatory action against the USA, headed down. "It's not that we can't talk just because there's tariffs", Mr Ross said. "There is money set aside whether it be for tariffs, or for interest rate fluctuations, so that we can proceed with our defence procurement should there be additional costs associated because of tariffs or other unexpected circumstances", she said.

"This is protectionism, pure and simple", he said.

White House spokesman Raj Shah told Fox News: "The president's actions are about protecting American steel, American aluminum".

However, shares of US seel and aluminium producers rose, with US Steel Corp and AK Steel up around 3.5 per cent, Nucor up around 1 per cent, and Century Aluminum rising 3.1 per cent.

Ross and Lighthizer seemed like the odd men out at this week's gathering at the OECD, an worldwide economic agency that includes the U.S.as a prominent member.

But he had granted an exemption to the European Union and other allies, including Canada and Mexico.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who unsuccessfully lobbied against both Trump's tariffs and US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal during his official state visit to Washington last month, criticized the tariffs in a speech on Wednesday as part of a larger "nationalist retrenchment" reminiscent of Europe in the 1930s.

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Trump's tariffs come amid a global glut in steel and aluminum which experts blame on over-production in China.

"Today is a bad day for world trade", European Union trade chief Cecila Malmstrom said after Thursday's announcement that the tariffs would finally take effect. But Ross said Thursday that those talks "are taking longer than we hoped".

Canada, Mexico and Europe were exempted from import duties of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum when they were first imposed in March, but those exemptions will expire on Friday.

"This is dumb. Europe, Canada, and Mexico are not China, and you don't treat allies the same way you treat opponents", said Sen.

"If any of these parties does retaliate that does not mean there can not be continuing negotiations", Ross said.

Trump imposed the steel and aluminum penalties under a 1962 law that gives the president broad power to increase or reduce tariffs on goods deemed critical to national security. South Korea has not negotiated an exemption for its aluminum exports. But they can also increase costs more broadly for USA manufacturers who cannot source all their steel locally and need to import the raw material.

But EU leaders have immediately vowed to retaliate against the U.S., with the bloc ready to launch a case at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) where it will trigger a "dispute settlement" as it believes the U.S. are breaking agreed global trade rules. "There is no longer a very precise date when they will be concluded", Ross said Thursday.

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