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Trump, U.S. Allies Exchange Barbs Amid Growing Fears Of Trade War


U.S. President Donald Trump (right) and French President Emmanuel Macron embrace at the conclusion of a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on April 24.

The White House says U.S. President Donald Trump has told French President Emmanuel Macron in a telephone conversation that a U.S. trade imbalance with Europe must be addressed.

The telephone call late on May 31 came after the Trump administration earlier in the day announced it would levy steel and aluminum tariffs against the European Union, Canada, and Mexico -- a move that prompted fears of a trade war between Western allies.

The 25 percent tariff on steel imports to the United States and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports went into effect on June 1, ending a two-month exemption and setting the stage for criticism from France, Germany, Britain, Mexico, Canada, and EU officials.

The EU and Canada on June 1 lodged complaints against Trump's tariffs with the World Trade Organization (WTO), the first step in the trade dispute process through the Geneva-based arbitrator.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said the bloc was challenging the legality of the new U.S. tariffs, and that negotiations with Washington were not currently possible.

EU officials have also prepared a series of countermeasures against U.S. products that the bloc's 28 member states are expected to finalize in the coming weeks.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said her country's complaint at the WTO was a response to "illegal" US tariffs on imports of Canadian steel and aluminum.

"These unilateral tariffs, imposed under a false pretext of safeguarding US national security, are inconsistent with the United States' international trade obligations and WTO rules," Freeland said in a statement.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Marie said at the opening of a Group Of Seven ministerial meeting in Canada on June 1 that the U.S. tariffs risk "the economic destabilization of the planet" because they will reduce economic growth and kill jobs.

Le Marie said that "Europeans will gain nothing through weakness" because Trump "will never respect Europeans' weakness."

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on June 1 that she was "deeply disappointed" by the Trump administration's decision because the tariffs were "unjustified."

May said European countries should be permanently exempted.

"The U.S., EU, and United Kingdom are close allies and have always promoted values of open and fair trade across the world," May said.

For his part, Trump on June 1 complained about what he said were "restrictive" trade practices by Canada after the government in Ottawa said it would respond to the new U.S. tariffs with proportional duties.

"Canada has treated our Agricultural business and Farmers very poorly for a very long period of time," Trump tweeted. "Highly restrictive on Trade! They must open their markets and take down their trade barriers!"

Mexico also has announced retaliatory measures in response to the new U.S. tariffs.

Britain responded promptly to the announcement, with a government spokesman saying London was "deeply disappointed" the United States decided to apply the tariffs on imports from the EU on "national security grounds."

"The U.K. and other European Union countries are close allies of the U.S. and should be permanently and fully exempted," the British spokesman said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU "will respond in an intelligent, decisive, and joint way."

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire accused the Trump administration of treating global trade like a Hollywood western, saying the U.S. tariffs were "unjustified, unjustifiable, and dangerous" to the world economy because they risk causing a trade war that will hurt growth everywhere.

"Global trade is not a 'Gunfight At OK Corral,'" Maire said. "It's not about who attacks whom, and then wait and see who is still standing at the end."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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