- Associated Press - Saturday, March 10, 2018

BRUSSELS (AP) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade envoy met Saturday with top European Union and Japanese officials who are pushing back against new U.S. steel tariffs that have unleashed fears of a broader trade war.

The 28-nation EU and Japan want to be exempted from the U.S. tariffs, which come into force in two weeks. If not, the EU has threatened retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products like peanut butter and orange juice. Japan has warned of the dangers of tit-for-tat measures.

U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer met Saturday in Brussels with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem and Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko.

Trump’s envoy also met Malmstroem and Seko separately. None spoke upon arrival.

The meetings had been previously planned but took on greater importance because of Trump’s announcement of a 25-percent tariff on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports.

Key U.S. trading partners and businesses have warned the tariffs could backfire, provoking a trade war and hurting allies like the EU and Japan more than China, their main target.

Japan’s government has warned the measure could hurt its economic relations with the U.S. But ahead of Saturday’s talks, Seko also cautioned that “falling to exchanges of unilateral measures will not be in the interest of any country,” according to the Kyodo news agency. He was apparently referring to the EU threats of retaliation.

Trump argues the tariffs are designed to protect U.S. jobs and national security. He said Canada and Mexico are exempt for now, and other countries could be spared if they can convince the administration that their steel and aluminum exports don’t threaten American industry.

The EU insists that it is committed to open, global trade. Malmstroem said the real problem is an oversupply of steel on global markets, and she rejected Trump’s assertion that the tariffs are needed to protect U.S. national security, especially when most EU countries are members of NATO.

“We are friends. We are allies. We work together. We cannot possibly be a threat to national security in the U.S., so we are counting on being excluded,” she said Friday.

The EU exported about 5.5 million tons of steel to the U.S. last year. The U.S. bought 5 percent of Japan’s steel last year but just 1.1 percent of China’s steel.

Foreign steel producers are not only concerned about losing access to the U.S. market but also that steel from other exporters will flood already saturated markets, threatening jobs elsewhere.

The EU has warned that it stands ready to slap “rebalancing” tariffs on about 2.8 billion euros ($3.4 billion) worth of U.S. steel, agricultural and other products, like peanut butter, cranberries and orange juice.


Charlton reported from Paris.

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