European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen says that the EU hopes to convince United States officials this week not to impose what it sees as completely unwarranted tariffs on European steel and aluminium imports. The former Finnish premier describes the situation as “a mess” and one that is utterly exceptional in today’s world.
The tariffs are expected to take effect on March 23 at the earliest. President Donald Trump said last week that the US will raise steel import taxes by 25 percent and aluminum by 10 percent.
“It seems that Trump’s rationale that this is due to national security concerns is not in fact the real reason, but rather it is purely a question of trade policy,” Katainen said in an Yle TV interview on Monday.
Katainen says there is no reason for higher tariffs, as European steel does not pose any threat to US security.
Washington plans to grant exemptions to Canada, Mexico and perhaps Australia. Katainen says that US officials lack any specific concept of what grounds upon which a specific country or company could be granted an exception.
“This will be a busy week,” says Katainen. “We’re trying to bring some sense into this mess and to discuss why the EU should also be exempted. European steel companies haven’t dumped European steel in an unfair way.”
Counter-measures within 90 days
If no exception is granted, the EU is ready to file a complaint with the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
“It’s crystal clear that the US will lose this case, and may have to pay fines to the EU and its other trading partners,” Katainen said.
The EU is preparing its own possible counter-tariffs on US products where price rises would have the least possible impact on Europeans.
Katainen said that according to WTO rules, the EU must launch any possible countermeasures within 90 days of any American steel tariffs taking effect.
He described counter-tariffs as a measure of last resort, and said it is most important now to find a solution as quickly as possible.
“The next few weeks are extremely important in order to calm the situation and avoid a global trade war,” he said.
Katainen has served as Finland’s prime minister and finance minister, and as Governor of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.