US-EU Trade War Ramps Up: Brussels Hits Back at Trump’s Tariffs with WTO Challenge

Written by | Monday, June 4th, 2018

The European Union last week initiated a case at the World Trade Organization (WTO) against steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by Trump’s administration and requested consultations with Washington. This initiation is the first step in the WTO dispute settlement process. “The WTO Secretariat has received the EU request for dispute settlement consultations on the US Section 232 measures,” a WTO official commented, adding that the content would only be made public once all WTO member states are familiar with it.  Earlier, the EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said that the EU would take the United States to the WTO to attack the legality of the new tariffs.


Ms. Malmstrom said that the tariffs were in fact “illegal” and a classic case of trade protectionism. She also admitted that negotiations with the US administration were currently not possible. The US tariffs — 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum — also triggered what the EU called “rebalancing measures”. “We are not seeking to escalate any situation,” Ms. Malmström said, “but not responding would be the same as accepting these tariffs, which we consider are illegal.” These words echoed those of French President Emmanuel Macron who called the tariffs “illegal” and said that Europe would respond in a “firm and proportionate manner”.


The EU was hit by the US sanctions together with Mexico and Canada. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that his country was also imposing dollar-for-dollar tariffs on US goods starting on 1 July. The EU’s Malmström also sharply criticized Washington’s assertion that the tariffs were levied on the ground of national security, saying the reason cited by the US “is not relevant … it is pure protectionism.” “European steel and aluminum exports to the United States cannot be seen as a threat to their internal security.” Ms. Malmstrom also added that the tariffs would have a negative impact on jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. She also hinted that the EU was not responsible for the problems identified by the White House, hinting that China was to blame.

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