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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 1:00 am

EU warns protectionism is 'historical error'

LORNE COOK | Associated Press

BRUSSELS – The European Union on Monday urged President Donald Trump not to head down “a dead end” road of protectionism and warned of a damaging trade war over his steel and aluminum tariffs.

At talks in Brussels, economy ministers underlined that the EU – the world's biggest trading bloc – supports free and open trade but that its 28 countries will respond if they are targeted by the U.S. tariffs, which are set to enter force next week.

“We are worried (about) the possibility of having a trade war between the United States and the EU because we believe that there will be only losers. We believe that protectionism is a dead end,” French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters.

Spanish Economy Minister Roman Escolano Olivares said, “protectionism is always a political, a historical error.”

Trump said Thursday that he was slapping tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum. He temporarily exempted big steel producers Canada and Mexico – provided they agree to renegotiate a North American trade deal to his satisfaction.

He said other countries could be spared the tariffs if they can convince the U.S. government that their steel and aluminum exports don't threaten American industry.

The EU rejects Trump's argument that the tariffs are required for national security reasons. It has threatened to slap retaliatory duties on about $3.4 billion worth of U.S. steel, agricultural and other products if it is not excluded from the tariff regime.

Amid uncertainty over who might be exempted, German Finance Minister Peter Altmaier appealed to reason, saying it is the “responsibility of everybody to keep international trade as fair and open as possible.”

Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said the tariffs are “a bad idea.

Trump tweeted Monday that U.S. “Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross will be speaking with representatives of the European Union about eliminating the large Tariffs and Barriers they use against the U.S.A.” It was not clear when or where the meeting would take place.