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European Union slams trade 'bullies' as Trump tariffs row deepens

14 March 2018

South Korea needs to work with the worldwide community to develop practical measures to tackle Washington's growing trade protectionism effectively and also sharpen the global competitive edge of the local steel industry.

On Saturday, the European Union and Japan urged the United States to grant them exemptions from metal import tariffs, with Tokyo calling for "calm-headed behavior".

The EU exported about 5.5 million tons of steel to the US a year ago.

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The arguments for free trade are that they "level the playing field" between nations, allowing USA producers to market their products overseas without restrictions, and vice versa. "It will cost consumers millions of dollars for each job saved in aluminum or steel production - a genuinely stupid and counterproductive policy".

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The tariffs will affect a wide range of products, including high-tech gadgets, food, furniture and beverages.

Vertical Group announced a big downgrade of U.S. Steel stock from hold to sell this morning, reports (subscription required). Both are essential to make everyday goods, from cars to planes, to food and drink containers. It is hard to believe that he would pursue tariffs if they would harm those same workers.

While there will be initially "higher import prices and substitution toward higher domestic prices", that will be followed by disinflationary effects when tariffs diminish demand, said Derek Holt, an economist at Scotiabank in Toronto. US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is "extremely anxious about the consequences of a trade war", because it could undermine economic gains introduced by the new tax reform law.

Trump further tweaked outraged free-traders, tweeting that "trade wars are good and easy to win".

For one thing, Vertical notes that the list of countries and products being exempted from the tariffs is "growing". "It is bad for European citizens, for Dutch citizens and it will turn out bad for US citizens as well". Tariffs would apply not only to information technology products, often the target of intellectual property theft, but also consumer goods like clothing. In a meeting with officials from Korean steelmakers on March 9, the government said that it would consult with the discuss tariff exemptions or reductions. It may be that it is a case of two birds with one stone, but one suspects the timing, straight after President Trump's 25% tariff on steel imports, is no coincidence.

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It has also lined up 2.8 billion euros of USA products, from bourbon to motorcycles, on which to impose tariffs so as to "rebalance" trade flows.

The Trump administration is also considering imposing investment restrictions on Chinese companies over and above the heightened national security restrictions, but details on these were not immediately known. If China is found guilty of infringement, the subsequent punishments from the U.S. could inflict more pain on the Chinese economy.

The fact that Trump is no longer picking a fight with just China, but the rest of the world, hints at rising risks of global retaliatory backlash. According to an analysis by the Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. steel employment peaked around 650,000 jobs in the 1950s, compared to around 140,000 today.

"The industry isn't doing as bad as their press releases say it is", says steel analyst Charles Bradford, president of Bradford Research. That would hurt producers but boost profits of construction and other industries in Southeast Asia.

If other countries retaliate against the USA tariffs, escalating barriers to trade could hurt economies around the world through higher prices and slower growth. Critics say Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum coming into the country will usher in a trade war, and it will harm America.

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"If a trade war begins between China and the US it won't imperil financial flows since these countries are two large economies and China has a sustainable balance-of payment surplus in bilateral trade with the US", Huang told Sputnik China.

European Union slams trade 'bullies' as Trump tariffs row deepens