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March 8, 2018

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China leads in protest over Trump tariffs

CHINA led a group of 18 World Trade Organization members yesterday that urged US President Donald Trump to scrap his planned tariffs on steel and aluminium.

The pleas from a broad coalition of members including the European Union, Japan, Canada and Russia came at the WTO’s General Council meeting, according to a trade official with direct knowledge of the meeting.

The Chinese representative, who spoke first, said Trump’s intention to justify the tariffs on national security grounds would pose a systemic threat to the rules-based global trading system safeguarded by the 164-member WTO.

Canada expressed concern that “the United States might be opening a Pandora’s Box that we would not be able to close,” according to the official.

Fears of an all-out trade war have risen since Trump announced the planned tariffs — 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminium — last week.

The world’s major economies have vowed to defend themselves, including through legal action at the WTO.

“Many members said they had fears of tit-for-tat retaliation which could spiral out of control,” the trade official said.

The EU said yesterday it is ready to retaliate against the proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum, with counter-measures against iconic US products like Harley Davidson motorcycles, Levi’s jeans and bourbon.

Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said yesterday that the EU, the world’s biggest trading bloc, rejects Trump’s reasoning that the tariffs are backed by the international legal right to protect national security.

Should tariffs be introduced, the EU and other partners would take the case to the WTO, she said. The EU is circulating among member states a list of US goods to target so that it can respond as quickly as possible.

Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn has resigned in apparent protest over the controversial tariffs.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Washington is not seeking a trade war and the decision to impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminium imports was “thought through.”


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