European Union leaders to devote summit session to U.S. trade threat

European Commission spokesman Margiritis Schinas answers questions on the US tariff threat in Brussels

Mexico threatened Tuesday to retaliate against President Donald Trump's planned steel and aluminum tariffs by hitting the most "politically sensitive" United States exports with tariffs of its own, the latest signal of a brewing trade war.

The departure of Gary Cohn, seen as a bulwark against Trump's economic nationalism, hit shares, oil and the dollar, as investors saw an increased likelihood of tit-for-tat trade measures that would depress global growth.

Earlier, the EU's trade commissioner confirmed that the EU's counter-measures would include tariffs on US steel and agricultural products, as well as other products like bourbon, peanut butter, cranberries and orange juice.

"But we are fair and reciprocal traders and the World Trade Organization I think needs to change with the times", he said.

The U.S. action will also pose a great threat to the current rule-based global system.

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"We are eager not to escalate this", European Union trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said.

In a sign of growing worldwide alarm at the possible consequences of Trump's protectionist measures, Roberto Azevedo, the WTO's director general, said "in the light of recent announcements on trade policy measures, it is clear we now see a much higher and real risk of triggering an escalation of trade barriers around the world".

Trump sparked global outrage last week by announcing he would impose tariffs of 25 percent on all imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum to protect domestic industries, citing a rarely invoked national security section of United States trade law.

"We should have a clear objective in mind to keep world trade alive and if necessary to protect Europeans against trade turbulence, including by proportionate responses in accordance with the WTO", he said.

The WTO has been reluctant to rule against that argument.

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He also said Trump's view that trade wars were good and easy to win was wrong.

"We have serious doubts about whether this measure is WTO compatible".

Mr Azevedo's warning was echoed by French president Emanuel Macron, who said yesterday the planned tariffs amounted to "economic nationalism" and that all sides would lose.

A White House trade adviser called that idea "provocative", but didn't outright say Trump wouldn't do such a thing.

Jennifer Hillman, a former member of the WTO's appellate body who teaches law at Georgetown University, said the European Union had a strong case that Mr Trump's proposed action was akin to a safeguard.

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