US firms in Ireland urge EU to step back from trade war

By Eamon Quinn

The group representing the might of US multinationals in Ireland has voiced its concerns about the risks of an escalating global trade war, but has urged the EU to negotiate with the US president Donald Trump’s White House.

The decision by the Trump administration to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium that the US imports from the EU, Canada, and Mexico has led to condemnations across the world and raised fears that the world for the first time will turn its back on global free trade deals policed by the World Trade Organisation.

The EU’s plans to hit back at new US tariffs include hiking duties on a range of imports from the US, from blue jeans and rice to the proverbial kitchen sink.

In eight closely typed pages of documentation lodged at the WTO in Geneva, the EU has set out 25% tariff increases that are in part aimed at hurting the electoral districts of some of President Trump’s allies, Reuters reported.

That explains “motorcycles ... of a cylinder capacity above 800 cc”, which targets Harley-Davidson, built in the home turf of House Speaker Paul Ryan, and “bourbon whiskey”, aimed at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky electors. Intriguingly precise targets such as “canoes” and “manicure or pedicure preparations”, “dried shelled kidney beans” or “chewing tobacco and snuff” are included. “Playing cards”, too, are hit — but only with an additional 10% duty.

A second EU list of a similar length has also been published at the WTO, lining up new targets for later if the trade dispute is not resolved.

A joint Franco-German statement said the EU would take “all appropriate measures” in response to the US decision, but did not spell out what “appropriate” meant.

German economy minister Peter Altmaier, a signatory to that statement, had said a month ago that EU states still needed to determine whether and when to apply the countermeasures.

“The moment of truth,” had arrived, said French trade minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne.

Along with Mexico, Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, has also ripped into Mr Trump.

But the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland chief Mark Redmond urged negotiation and for the EU to avoid going ahead with its new lists of sanctions on US imports into the EU, saying that 15m jobs across the US and Europe rely on trade between the two blocs.

Directing his plea to Brussels, Mr Redmond said: “The introduction of tariffs is very serious, and it is very important that the EU seeks a negotiated solution rather than potentially escalating the situation.”

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