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EU outlines plan to counter US steel, aluminium tariffs

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The European commissioners on Wednesday gave political endorsement to a proposal aiming to counter the possible US steel and aluminium tariffs, saying the EU stands ready to react "proportionately and fully" in line with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules once the US measures affect EU's interest.

The proposal was presented by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Vice-President Jyrki Katainen and Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom, according to a statement.

"The motivation behind the US measures appears to be an economic safeguard measure in disguise - not a national security measure," Malmstrom said at a press conference.

"That means that the EU is entitled to make use of the WTO Safeguards Agreement to rebalance benefits that we have given to the US in the past. This would be done by carrying out measures that match the economic loss suffered by us because of the US move," she added.

An earlier report by the Politico Europe said the EU is ready to roll out countermeasures against US exports worth 2.8 billion euros (3.48 billion US dollars), including Levi's jeans, Harley-Davidson motorbikes and bourbon whiskeys.

Malmstrom confirmed that the EU has prepared a list of products including a number of steel products, agricultural products and consumer goods, for imposing reciprocal tariffs if needed.

"Certain types of bourbon are indeed on the list as are other items such as peanut butter, cranberries, orange juice etc," she said.

But the commissioner still hoped that "as a US security partner, the EU would be excluded" from the US tariffs target.

"We also hope to convince the US administration that this is not the right move. Protectionism cannot be the answer, it never is," she added.

US President Donald Trump announced on Thursday last week that the United States is set to impose 25 percent of tariff on steel imports and 10 percent for aluminum.

Trump also tweeted on Friday that "When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win".

World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevedo on Monday called on members to avoid triggering an escalation of global trade barriers, urging them to reflect on the matter.

"In light of recent announcements on trade policy measures, it is clear that we now see a much higher and real risk of triggering an escalation of trade barriers across the globe," said Azevedo.

French President Emmanuel Macron's remarks in Paris on the same day echoed Azevedo's call.

If US President Donald Trump's threat to slap new tariffs were to be confirmed and implemented, "it is clear that they would violate the rules of the WTO," said Macron.

"If the current 'tit for tat' rhetoric between the US and EU really results in a trade war, neither will walk away scot-free," ING Senior Economist Bert Colijn and Raoul Leering, Head of International Trade Analysis said in an coauthored article.

"As the impact of a trade war reaches well beyond trade volumes, the losers far outnumber the winners," they said.

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