US President Donald Trump on Friday said he has spoken with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and that they are working on an agreement so Australia will not be subject to US tariffs on steel and aluminum.
Minister Hiroshige Seko told a news conference his U.S. counterpart Robert Lighthizer had only explained the schedule and procedure of the USA actions in talks in Brussels. "It is not crystal clear what the president said yesterday, so we will have to seek further clarity on that", said the EU's Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom.
"We want to have dialogue, right up to the very end, but if talking gets us nowhere then Europe can not be naive, it will have to retaliate, in an adequate and proportional way, and in a way that says you can not hit us like this", said France's Secretary of State at the Ministry of Europe & Foreign Affairs, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne.
"If they drop their horrific barriers & tariffs on USA products going in, we will likewise drop ours". Big deficit. If not, we tax cars etc.
Japan's trade ministry issued a statement earlier on Sunday, saying that Seko told Lighthizer that exports of steel and aluminum from Japan, which is a close ally of the USA, would not affect US national security. She said Canada would push "until the prospect of these duties is fully and permanently lifted", and said it would be inconceivable to apply tariffs to a close military ally like Canada on national security grounds.
But after two-way talks with Lighthizer, European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem tweeted: "No immediate clarity on the exact USA procedure for exemption however, so discussions will continue next week".
"As a close security and trade partner of the USA, the European Union must be excluded from the announced measures", she tweeted after bilateral and trilateral meetings.
He also praised the EU Commission earlier announcement that it will respond immediately.
Trump had indicated he would be flexible toward "real friends".
"It's not good steel - you guys know what I mean".
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"We can welcome this cautiously, but I emphasize caution", Turnbull said. "Steel is back, and aluminum is back".
Lighthizer did not make any immediate comment after the meetings.
"If Trump wants his allies to demonstrate that they are united in tackling problems with China, this is precisely that", the source added.
Striking a defiant tone, European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen called Trump's speech protectionist, saying it remained unclear how a potential exclusion process would work.
The EU has warned that it stands ready to slap "rebalancing" tariffs on about 2.8 billion euros ($3.4 billion) worth of US steel, agricultural and other products, like peanut butter, cranberries and orange juice.
Germany - singled out for particular criticism by Trump - accused Washington of protectionism, calling the tariffs an "affront to close partners".
The US leader had also added Australia to a list of likely exemptions.
Complicating matters, Trump indicated that the sparing of Australia was linked to an unspecified "security agreement" outside of trade policy.
"The European Union has not treated us well, and it's been a very, very unfair trade situation".
Australian steel and aluminum exports to the United States were worth just over A$400 million ($314 million) a year ago, government data showed.
Despite being one of the world's largest suppliers of raw commodity, iron ore, Australia is a small global exporter of steel.