The EU is poised to hit back against U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel imports by rolling out countermeasures against €2.8 billion-worth of U.S. exports including Levi’s jeans, Harley-Davidson motorbikes and bourbon whiskeys.
People briefed on the plans said the EU countermeasures would look to impose additional 25 percent tariffs on U.S. products across three sectors: agriculture, steel and other industries.
Trump’s decision on Thursday to slap additional tariffs of 25 percent on U.S. steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum was months in the making and Brussels had readied a list of countermeasures. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker confirmed the targets while speaking to reporters in Hamburg.
The Commission said that the countermeasures would now be discussed by the commissioners from the EU’s 28 member countries on Wednesday.
A Commission spokesperson said: “The list is ready and will include one-third steel products, one-third agricultural products and one-third industrial products.”
The targets cited by Juncker are in line with earlier countermeasure lists, which focused on goods from politically sensitive Republican-run states. Harley-Davidson motorbikes are from Wisconsin and bourbon is produced in Kentucky, the home state of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.
Brussels insisted that its countermeasures would be compatible with World Trade Organization rules and could be implemented quickly, without the need for a drawn-out lawsuit at the WTO in Geneva.
Officials in Brussels and another major European capital explained that the EU was going to define Trump’s action as a so-called “safeguard measure” — a temporary step intended to protect a domestic industry. That would remove the need for a full WTO showdown in Geneva and enable Brussels to respond promptly with its own counter-tariffs.
Trump justifies his new tariffs by citing national security concerns. Commission officials reject this argument because the U.S. defense secretary has stated that the American military needs no more than 3 percent of U.S. steel production. Instead, officials said, Trump’s tariffs were intended to protect the U.S. domestic industry. On this basis, the EU is allowed to retaliate.
“We consider that the tariffs announced by the U.S. president would amount to safeguard measures in disguise,” the EU spokesperson said.
EU officials believe their case is bolstered by Trump’s tweets, which stress economic factors rather than national security. “We must protect our country and our workers. Our steel industry is in bad shape,” Trump said on Friday.
Another tweet offered more insight into the president’s thinking: “Trade wars are good, and easy to win. When we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore — we win big.”
For EU officials, this is a further sign that Trump’s measures are “safeguards” rather than defenses imposed for reasons of national security.