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Europe seeks steel safeguards against U.S. tariffs

Trade flow disruptions from U.S. tariffs mean Europe needs to find ways to balance its own markets, the trade commissioner said Wednesday.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Europe seeks steel safeguards against U.S. tariffs
European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom has unveiled safeguards for the European market against the shift in trade flows from U.S. tariffs on steel. File Photo by Olivier Hoslet/EPA-EFE

July 18 (UPI) -- Europe's trade commissioner said Wednesday she was taking steps to safeguard industries from the flood of steel moving into the market because of U.S. tariffs.

"The U.S. tariffs on steel products are causing trade diversion, which may result in serious harm to EU steelmakers and workers in this industry," Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said in a statement. "We are left with no other choice than to introduce provisional safeguard measures to protect our domestic industry against a surge of imports."

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U.S. President Donald Trump invoked national security concerns when imposing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum in March. Next week, European President Jean-Claude Juncker meets the U.S. president to discuss ways of improving the transatlantic relationship with a Trump administration upending traditional alliances.

For 23 steel product categories, the European trade commissioner unveiled plans for a 25 percent tariff once imports exceed the three-year average. Non-member state countries like Norway and developing countries with limited exports to the European market are exempt.

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Malmström said the measures were not meant to impact the openness of the European market.

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"I am convinced that strike the right balance between the interest of EU producers and users of steel, like the automotive industry and the construction sector, who rely on imports," she said. "We will continue to monitor steel imports in order to take a final decision by early next year, at the latest."

The Trump administration's tariffs have caused headaches for domestic sectors that depend on a handful of foreign niche producers for steel products like pipelines. The U.S. sector tends to focus on steel for manufacturing, leaving oil and gas companies dependent on foreign suppliers.

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The American Petroleum Institute, a trade representing the oil and gas industry, said it was frustrated that the Department of Commerce wasn't proving relief for the energy sector. The API said there's a lack of domestic capacity for certain steel products, though the federal government continues to deny exclusions on national security grounds.

"The administration's decision-making is not serving the interests of energy consumers and American businesses, as these tariffs are expected to increase the cost of sourcing steel for the oil and natural gas companies which in turn could increase the cost of energy to consumers," API Executive Vice President Marty Durbin said in a statement. "This is not the way to achieve the administration's commendable goal of U.S. energy dominance."

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In his national security strategy, Trump said the U.S. role as a global oil and gas exporter has global implications.

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"As a growing supplier of energy resources, technologies, and services around the world, the United States will help our allies and partners become more resilient against those that use energy to coerce," the strategy reads.

The United States is now an oil exporter, though infrastructure necessary to move oil to the market can't keep up with production trends. Consultant group IHS Markit found it was the lack of infrastructure, not the lack of spending on exploration and production, that presented a growth challenge for U.S. shale.

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