Germany doubts EU will be exempt from Trump steel tariffs

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, center, leaves EU headquarters in Brussels after a meeting with European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstroem, Saturday, March 10, 2018. The EU is still seeking clarity from Washington about whether the 28-nation bloc will be exempt from U.S. President Donald Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)
European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstroem, center, meets with Japanese Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer at EU headquarters in Brussels on Saturday, March 10, 2018. The EU is still seeking clarity from Washington about whether the 28-nation bloc will be exempt from U.S. President Donald Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs. (Stephanie Lecocq, Pool Photo via AP)

BRUSSELS — Germany expressed doubt on Tuesday about whether the European Union will be exempt from U.S. President Donald Trump's potentially damaging steel and aluminum tariffs, as the bloc's top trade official headed to Washington for last-ditch talks.

"We are skeptical, but will hope to the end that there is a good solution," Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Roth told reporters in Brussels.

Expressing concern about Trump's "dogmatic and ideological decision," Roth said that "we are at the moment — and the clock is ticking — a long way from a sensible solution."

His comments came as EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom headed to Washington to seek an exemption from the tariffs for the entire 28-nation bloc. Malmstrom tweeted that she "will insist that EU as a whole is excluded from tariff measures. We should work together to address overcapacity in steel and aluminum."

Trump's tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum enter force on Friday. He has temporarily exempted big steel producers Canada and Mexico — provided they agree to renegotiate a North American trade deal to his satisfaction.

The EU has drawn up a list of "rebalancing" duties worth some 2.8 billion euros ($3.4 billion) to slap on U.S. products if it is not exempted.

EU leaders will discuss the tariffs on Thursday, hoping to avert a trade war while remaining determined to press on with free trade deals with the Mercosur countries of South America and Mexico.

"We must prepare for all possible scenarios," EU Council President Donald Tusk said in an invitation letter to the leaders, exhorting them to remain an example to the global trading system rather than revert to protectionism.

"As the world's biggest trading power, the EU's response will be responsible and reasonable," he said.

The EU rejects Trump's assertion that the tariffs are needed for national security and sees them as protectionist measures. Most EU countries are U.S. allies in the world's biggest security organization, NATO.

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