Trump Threatens to Tax European-built Cars as Trade War Rhetoric Builds

President Donald Trump threatened on Saturday to impose a tax on European cars if the European Union chooses to retaliate against his plans to place tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

In a tweet Saturday morning, Trump said the U.S. had an “$800 Billion Dollar Yearly” trade imbalance because of “very stupid” trade deals and policies. He warned that if the EU increased “tariffs and barriers” against American-made products, “we will simply add a Tax on their Cars.”

Presently, the U.S. imposes a 2.5 percent tariff on European-built cars and Europe imposes a 10 percent tariff on U.S.-built cars.

Earlier this week, Trump announced that he plans sometime in the coming week to impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports. He said the tariffs would be in effect for a long period of time.

Trump’s tweet Saturday appeared to be in response to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s warning that the EU could respond by taxing quintessentially American-made products, such as bourbon whiskey, blue jeans and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Juncker told German media Friday that he does not like the words “trade war.” “But I can’t see how this isn’t part of warlike behavior,” he said.

Trump had tweeted earlier in the day: “Trade wars are good, and easy to win.”

Trump’s announcement, made during a meeting with steel and aluminum industry executives at the White House, led a sharp drop in the U.S. markets and sparked concerns of a trade war Friday.

China, Canada respond

Later Friday, China warned about the “huge impact” on global trading if Trump proceeds with his tariff plans.

Wang Hejun, head of China’s commerce ministry’s trade remedy and investigation bureau, said in a statement the tariffs would “seriously damage multilateral trade mechanisms represented by the World Trade Organization and will surely have huge impact on normal international trade order.” 

The Chinese official added, “If the final measures of the United States hurt Chinese interests, China will work with other affected countries in taking measures to safeguard its own rights and interests.”

China ranks 11th among the countries that export steel to the U.S. 

Canada is the United States’ biggest foreign source of both materials.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that Trump’s tariff plans were “absolutely unacceptable.” He said he is prepared to “defend Canadian industry” and warned the tariffs would also hurt U.S. consumers and businesses by driving up prices.

The director of the World Trade Organization, Roberto Azevedo, responded coolly, saying, “A trade war is in no one’s interests.” 

Trump spent Friday defending his threat to impose the tariffs, saying potential trade conflicts can be beneficial to the United States.

“When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win,” Trump wrote in a post on the social media site Twitter. “Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore – we win big. It’s easy!” 

A Japanese government official told VOA that Tokyo “has explained several times to the U.S. government our concerns,” but declined to comment further on any ongoing discussions with Washington.

“While we are aware of the president’s statement, we understand that the official decision has not been made yet,” the Japanese official said. “If the U.S. is going to implement any measures, we expect the measures be WTO-rules consistent.” 

China on Friday expressed “grave concern” about the matter. 

Trump said Thursday the tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports will be in effect for a long period of time. He said the measure will be signed “sometime next week.” 

In 2017, Canada, Brazil, South Korea and Mexico accounted for nearly half of all U.S. steel imports. That year, Chinese steel accounted for less than 2 percent of overall U.S. imports.

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