China grumbles at Trump’s tariff move, but Europe takes aim at Harleys and bourbon

 In U.S.
China reacted with cautious criticism Friday to President Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, urging the United States to abide by multilateral trade rules and do nothing to damage the fragile global economic recovery.

In Europe, however, Thursday’s announcement triggered a sharp backlash, including threats of retaliation.

“We will put tariffs on Harley-Davidson, on bourbon and on blue jeans — Levi’s,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, according to the Reuters news service. “We cannot simply put our head in the sand.”

China is the world’s dominant steel producer, but experts said the tariff plan would not greatly affect it because the country accounts for only 2 percent of U.S. imports. Beijing is not about to start a trade war over the decision, they added, framing it as self-
defeating.

“What an extremely stupid move,” said Li Xinchuang, vice secretary general of the China Iron and Steel Association. “A desperate attempt by Trump to pander to his voters, which I think in fact runs counter to his ‘America First’ pledge.”

A Chinese worker cuts steel in Qingdao in China’s Shandong province. China has reacted with measured disapproval to President Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. (AFP/Getty Images)

Li, who is also director of the China Metallurgical Industry Planning and Research Institute, said the tariffs would only make U.S. industries fall further behind globally at a time when “China is in its prime.”

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Friday that world trade would be harmed if other countries follow the U.S. example. “The basis for the global recovery is still unstable,” she said. “All countries should make concerted efforts to cooperate to resolve the relevant issues, instead of taking trade-restrictive measures unilaterally.”

It is not clear whether the tariffs would affect only certain countries or apply globally.

The tariff proposal met with more outrage in Europe, particularly in Germany, where Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel called it “unfathomable.”

“With this, the declaration of war has arrived,” said Bernd Lange, a German Social Democrat and head of the European Parliament’s trade committee, speaking on German public radio. “They have a mercantile trade model in their heads that dates back 200 years.”

Although Germany exports more steel to the United States than any other European country, last year it accounted for just 3 percent of U.S. steel imports, through September. Far more originated in Canada, South Korea and Mexico, countries that also have raised major concerns about the policy.

Trump’s announcement of a 25 percent tariff on steel imports could greatly affect products that you may not know depend on it, like Reddi-wip. (Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)

But many European officials see the tariffs as part of broader fears they have about Trump’s “America First” agenda, given the bloc’s long-standing reliance on U.S. partnership. Lange and others also worry that the tariffs could be expanded to other fields, such as computers.

“It’s a bottomless pit,” he said.

France also condemned the move. In a strong statement Friday, Bruno Le Maire, France’s economy minister, said that if a trade war ensues between the United States and the European Union, there will be “only losers.”

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