European Union says no 'immediate' clarity from United States on trade tariffs

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The EU's trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom will meet with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Brussels on Saturday but the EU executive said the talks would not solve all the problems.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said after meetings in Brussels that she got "no immediate clarity on the exact United States procedure for exemption", and that new talks are planned next week.

European Commissioner Malmstrom, who coordinates policy for the 28-nation EU, the world's biggest trading bloc, said she stood ready to go to the WTO, the worldwide trade arbiter, to impose the bloc's own safeguards within 90 days.

"We are an ally, not a threat", he said, rejecting any hint that the bloc's exports threatened USA national security - Trump's justification for imposing the tariffs.

President Donald Trump's announcement of duties of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminium has stung the European Union, along with other major partners including Japan, whose Economy Minister Hiroshige Seko also attended the talks in Brussels. Europe could also file an eventual complaint before the World Trade Organization, Moscovici said.

The talks, initially set to address China's oversupply of steel, have always been in the diary, but after Trump's dramatic announcement, they became the first opportunity to defuse the crisis. European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen said it would be "a meeting, not THE meeting".

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.

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Trump said Canada and Mexico are exempt for now, and other countries could be spared if they can convince the administration that their steel and aluminum exports don't threaten American jobs and industry.

Juncker, who on Wednesday met Lakshmi Mittal, the boss of the world's top steelmaker ArcelorMittal, said last week the EU would "react firmly" to protect European industry.

Germany - singled out for particular criticism by Trump - accused Washington of protectionism, calling the tariffs an "affront to close partners". He also added Australia to the list of likely carve-outs.

With tensions at a peak, the European Union had sought to keep low expectations for any breakthrough on Saturday.

A Eurofer spokesman also warned that the US's punitive tariffs not only make market access more hard for European steel but could flood Europe with imports from other nations unable to get into the USA market, pushing prices down and endangering EU jobs.

Complicating matters, Trump indicated on Friday that Australia's carveout was linked to an unspecified "security agreement" outside of trade policy. "It could disrupt the steel and aluminium markets of the world and have a negative impact", Mr Seko told reporters after meeting Mr Lighthizer to seek an exemption for Japanese producers.

The EU and Japan a year ago formally agreed the broad outlines of a landmark trade deal that was announced as a direct challenge to the protectionism championed by Trump.

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