The European Commission said Wednesday that it hoped the United States would not follow-through on its threat to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, but warned it would reply with its own set of levies and restrictions under World Trade Organisation rules if need.
The Commission's top trade official, Cecilia Malmstrom, told reporters in Brussels she "still hoped" that the EU would be excluded from the list of countries that would be hit by the import tariffs, but stressed that the bloc would "respond proportionately" and said the EU rejected the idea that European exports of steel into the United States would constitute a national security threat.
"We are trying to co-ordinate what we are planning and we are trying to be as transparent as possible," she said, but also insisted the EU was "eager not to escalate the situation."
"I'm still hoping we can everything we can to offer a dialgoue, because the (U.S.) proposals would be very damaging for the European economy," she said. "We want to comply with WTO rules in order to move swiftly, and we don't want to escalate the situation, but we can neither stay silent when such a major measure would be taken."
The response follows comments from President Donald Trump on Tuesday, where he told journalists at a press conference alongside the Prime Minister of Sweden that the EU has been "very tough on the U.S ... they make it almost impossible to do business with them." However, Trump also said that "we can put a tax of 25% on their cars and believe me they won't be doing It for very long."
The EU has identified a list of potential tariff targets which would be hit by the same 25% levy Trump has suggested for steel imported into the United States, according to media reports, that includes Harley Davidson Inc. (HOG) - Get Report motorcycles, t-shirts, blue jeans and bourbon. It also adds orange juice, corn and various agricultural products alongside cosmetics and yachts. Collectively, Bloomberg reported, the list could impact €2.8 billion in U.S. goods.
"Certain types of bourbon are on the list as are other items such as peanut butter, cranberries, orange juice," is all Malmstrom would say with respect to possible retaliatory tariffs.
"In a so-called trade war, driven by reciprocal increases of import tarifs, nobody wins, one generally finds losers on both sides," IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde told France's RTL radio Wednesday. ""We recommend an agreement between the different parties, and talks, talks."