European Union trade ministers have agreed they may retaliate if the US slaps import tariffs on steel and aluminum. The EU is reportedly drawing up a list of US products to target, including orange juice and bourbon.
German deputy economy minister Matthias Machnig said on Tuesday that the introduction of tariffs, an idea floated by the US Commerce Department and supported by US President Donald Trump, was incompatible with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and unjustifiable on national security grounds.
"I said we are preparing all options," Machnig told reporters, adding there was unanimous agreement that the European Commission and member countries "need to take appropriate precautions."
Read more: EU prepares response to possible US tariffs
The US Commerce Department last week urged President Trump to impose tariffs or quotas on foreign-made metals, citing national security concerns, a suggestion Machnig lambasted. "Only one percent of German or European steel imports are used for military purposes," he said, adding that the idea was "absurd."
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has suggested imposing customs or quotas on imports from China and other countries, ranging from global and country-specific tariffs to broad import quotas.
The first option is a general duty on steel imports from all countries, which would be at least 24 percent, while the second is targeted tariffs of over 50 percent. The third option would be no tariffs, but a freeze on exports from all countries at 63 percent of imports from 2017 for each country.
Trump said on Monday he wants "to bring the steel industry back to America" even if it meant applying tariffs to imports from other countries.
The US has until April 11 to make a decision.
Support within the bloc
The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported this month that the EU is drawing up a list of US products to target — including orange juice and Kentucky bourbon — if Washington restricts imports of aluminum and steel.
European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas declined to comment on the list at the time but said the EU would take "appropriate measures to defend EU industry."
"Brussels stands ready to react swiftly and appropriately in case our exports are affected by any restrictive trade measures from the US," Schinas said.
jbh/se (AP, Reuters)