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German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Gateau

German economy minister hopes for EU exemption to US tariffs

Jefferson Chase (Berlin)
March 22, 2018

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier holds out the hope that the European Union will be exempt from tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to the United States. Now the waiting game begins.


In an official governmental declaration to the German parliament, the Bundestag, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier addressed the issue of US President Donald Trump's punitive duties of 25 percent on foreign steel and 10 percent on imported aluminum, which are set to take effect on March 23.

"In a few hours we will know what the US has decided about the proposed steel and aluminum tariffs, which countries will be exempt from them and the details of how they will be put into practice," Altmaier said.

Read more:US announces anti-dumping tariffs on steel wire products

The economy minister said that he had received positive signals from the American side on a visit to Washington earlier this week. He said he had found conversational partners with "open ears" for German and European arguments. Altmaier's remarks came after a hopeful statement by EU Trade Commisioner Cecilia Malmstrom.

 "This afternoon, [Trump] will make an announcement on possible exclusions," Malmstrom told European lawmakers in Brussels."We expect that we are on that list, we don't know for sure."

Graphic on EU and US tariffs
The EU imposes higher tariff on more products than the US does

The European Union has said it plans to challenge Trump's tariffs in the World Trade Organization if it is not granted an exception. The bloc has also threatened to respond in kind by limiting the imports to Europe of US steel and other products ranging from bourbon whiskey to blue jeans to motorcycles.

Read more:Trade tensions overshadow G20 finance ministers meeting

Altmaier did not comment on the possibility of a tit-for-tat response or indeed an incipient global trade war, but he did say the tariffs had implications beyond the two specific industries concerned.

"This is not just a measure concerning two products on the world market, but rather the general principle of free trade worldwide without dumping prices," Altmaier said.

Trump has threatened to slap a 25 percent duty on German automobile imports, if the EU responds to US steel and aluminum tariffs with tariffs of its own. Germany's trade surplus with the US amounted to $64 billion (€52 billion) in 2017.

Left party understands Trump's position

Steel worker at furnace
The US tariffs are primarily aimed at China, not the EUImage: Getty Images/A. Koerner

But Trump's position has attracted some support on the political left in Germany. The Left party, which because of its socialist past is usually very critical of the US, says it can understand Trump's motivation for mooting the tariffs.

"The current trade conflict with the US was just a matter of a time," Left party economy spokesman Klaus Ernst said in a written statement. "The German government has thus far stubbornly refused to admit that its excessive orientation around exports harm other countries … For that reason the core of the talks with the US side now should be the eradication of export surpluses."

Read moreUS trade deficit surges during Trump's first year in office

In the Bundestag, Ernst mocked the idea that the threat of countertariffs from the EU could inspire a change of position.

"What precisely did you tell the Americans?" Ernst asked the economy minister. "You think blue jeans and Harley Davidsons will impress Trump? What a joke."

Meanwhile, the Greens said that the EU should not be making major concessions to the US to avoid the tariffs.

"We would like to warn against doing bad deals," said Green party deputy parliamentary spokesperson Kerstin Andreae. "We are going to be monitoring what we have to give in return for an exemption very carefully."

Steel tariffs: solutions on the horizon?

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