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EC slams ‘illegal’ tariffs, seeks WTO complaints

Jun 01, 2018 | 12:01 PM | London | Viral Shah

Tags  European Commission, Section 232, Cecilia Malmström

The European Commission (EC) has encouraged all non-European Union countries affected by the “illegal” Section 232 tariffs imposed by the United States on steel and aluminium imports to follow its lead and file complaints with the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“We will today send requests for a consultation panel at the WTO, and we have already started preparations for rebalancing measures with a deadline of June 20,” EC trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström said at a press conference on Friday June 1.

Malmström did not provide an immediate deadline for the conclusion of the EC’s import safeguard investigation, launched on March 26, instead reiterating the expected timeline of nine months.

The safeguard investigation covers 26 steel product types in an attempt to prevent the redirection of steel in the global export markets from the US to the EU market.

On May 16, the EC set out plans to impose a 25% safeguard duty on steel and aluminium imported from the US from June 20 if the EU were not exempted from Section 232 tariffs.

“We are not seeking to escalate this issue, but we will respond to tariffs that we consider illegal. We would encourage all countries [that are] affected to take this [issue] to the WTO,” Malmström said.

“The WTO is not perfect, but we are determined to protect the multilateral system,” she said.

The US imposed tariffs under its Section 232 trade legislation of 25% on steel imports and 10% on aluminium imports from Canada, Mexico and the EU, beginning from just after midnight US time on the morning of June 1.

“The motivation of internal security [for imposing the Section 232 tariffs] is not relevant - it is pure protectionism,” Malmström said.

“We have spent a lot of time presenting a positive trans-Atlantic trade agenda, but the US was not ready to engage with us on this. Our offer was, ‘You take away this gun from us, and we will negotiate as friends,’ ” Malmström said.

“We [in Europe] are not the cause of [global steel] oversupply. We have also suffered from dumping, which has mainly been caused by China,” she added.

The EC is also launching legal proceedings at the WTO against China over intellectual property rights infringements, Malmström said.

Section 232 vehicle probe
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross initiated a Section 232 investigation into US imports of cars and automotive parts on May 23, a process with potentially far-reaching consequences for the metals markets.

“We are following this development with a lot of anxiety,” Malmström said, “because we believe this could cause enormous damage, not just to the US, but also to the EU and to other automotive producers such as Japan.”


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