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How Germany Is Approaching Potential U.S. Tariffs On Steel And Aluminum


Tomorrow is the day the fight over trade could become much larger and involve many more countries than the U.S. and China. European leaders, among others, are getting a plan in place to retaliate potentially - depending on what President Trump does or does not do tonight. As a reminder, when he set imp ort tariffs on steel and aluminum in March, the U.S. gave temporary exemptions to nations - including Canada, Mexico and Australia. The European Union also got one.


Those temporary exemptions expire at midnight. And it's still not clear what's going to happen - if they'll be extended, if they won't. The EU has been lobbying Trump about this. That's part of the reason the French president and German chancellor were here last week. The EU exports more than $7 billion worth of steel and aluminum to the U.S. To talk more about Germany's approach to this, we're joined by Elmar Brok. He's a member of the European Parliament from Germany. Welcome to the program.

ELMAR BROK: Good evening.

CORNISH: As far as you know, is there a chance we'll see the exemption on tariffs extended?

BROK: We hope so, but we do not know. But we believe that these new tariffs the United States wants to settle is against international law, is against agreements. And it's violating WTO rules. And therefore, we hope that this violation do not take place.

CORNISH: You're saying that what the U.S. is doing could violate WTO, World Trade Organization, laws. Last week, the EU Commissioner for Trade said that, quote, "we're not negotiating anything under threat." Do you think that's still the case?

BROK: Look. We have made some group proposals how we can negotiate our common relationships in tariffs. The present tariffs and the WTO rules are agreed between the European Union and the United States. These are agreed tariffs. In some cases, the America tariffs are higher. In other cases, the European's are higher. The best would be to have new negotiations over getting rid of all the tariffs. And the European Union is ready since several years. And therefore, that would be the best way for both sides in order to increase international trade and have fairness in trade.

CORNISH: Do you think that - from Germany's position, should the EU retaliate if the exemption is not extended? I know that there's a list of products out there that could be targeted for retaliatory tariffs - all-American goods, whiskey, Harley Davidsons.

BROK: First of all, I think we will go to the WTO. We will make a case to the WTO because we believe that this is illegal. What the United States does, it's against WTO rules. But I think there's also the possibility that for some time after we have made our proposals for these negotiations to get rid of all the tariffs, that we will retaliate. It must be clear that the European Union is the strongest trade region in the world. It's not just ready to take what one state says. We have a feeling after the speech by President Trump in Davos that he doesn't accept multilateral trade agreements - that he decides what is fair or not fair. I think that is not a way be between partners to decide - that one side alone makes decisions, and the others have to follow.

CORNISH: But do the Trump White House - from their position, why should they be handing out exemptions - right? - if essentially they're trying to put pressure on China.

BROK: Then put pressure on China but not pressure on Europe, which is an ally. And we have to see that this way - because the European Union is not responsible for all the productions in steel sector, that the European Union should not be punished because of that.

CORNISH: Do you think this marks the beginning of a trade war?

BROK: We do not hope so. I hope that everyone has a clear head. And we'll try to vote because this - what the American president does is against the vows of all symbols in the United States and in Europe. It will lead to less competitiveness in the United States. But on the other side, it's a damage to all of us. And therefore, we should try to find a solution to this question. And the best would be to sit together than get rid of all the tariffs.

CORNISH: That's Elmar Brok. He's a member of the European Parliament from Germany. Thank you for speaking with us.

BROK: Thank you very much. Bye, bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.