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Trump insists on tariffs, but promises “flexibility” with “true friends”

Ⓒ AFP – Mandel Ngan – | Donald Trump speaks at a Latin forum on Wednesday, March 7 in Washington

US President Donald Trump toned down on Thursday his plan to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum, promising “flexibility” for those countries that are “true friends” of Washington.

“We must protect and build our steel and aluminum industry while showing great flexibility and cooperation towards those who are true friends, who treat us equally at both the trade and defense levels,” the president said in one of his statements. already usual morning tweets.

At the moment, the “true friends” have not been identified by the White House.

Exactly a week ago, Trump was surprised to announce his intention to tax steel imports at 25% and aluminum imports at 10%, in a statement that sparked a global wave of concern about what could be a trade war.

– Negotiation under pressure –

However, presidential spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Wednesday the plan could include exceptions to Mexico and Canada, two key partners renegotiating the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the United States.

According to Sanders, that exception could also be applied “potentially to other countries,” after an analysis based on national security criteria.

However, the Washington Post newspaper said that the tariff exemption for Mexico and Canada would be for only 30 days, which could be extended if the NAFTA renegotiation shows signs of progress.

Mexicans, Canadians and Americans finished their seventh round of talks this week without the parties having yet reported substantive progress.

This Thursday, Trump will conduct a meeting at the White House dedicated exclusively to discuss the proposal for the adoption of tariffs, and could use that ceremony to formalize the controversial measure.

The Secretaries of Commerce and the Treasury, Wilbur Ross and Steven Mnuchin, rushed to put cold pads on Wednesday, noting that the tariffs were negotiable and would not harm growth.

Ross said Wednesday that the decision to apply tariffs had been “carefully analyzed” and that the United States was not seeking a trade war.

For his part, Mnuchin told Fox Business that the measure would not hurt the government’s projections of a 3% growth and also assured that they do not seek “a commercial war”.

– The EU showed its teeth –

Trump’s warning about the preferential treatment of “true friends” came a day after the European Union presented a careful plan of reprisals against the White House initiative.

The European Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström, said she hoped that an escalation of trade tensions that would “harm transatlantic relations” could be avoided, but unfolded a range of options to respond to Washington.

Meanwhile, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, pointed out that “trade wars are bad and easy to lose,” in a direct reference to President Donald Trump, who on Friday had said that these disputes are “good and easy to win.” ”

Also, the EU warned Trump Thursday that, if finally heavily taxed imports of steel products, can not make exceptions with certain countries of the bloc, such as the United Kingdom.

European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen said in Brussels that “they are probably considering some exemptions for the NAFTA countries (…) but they have also mentioned the United Kingdom and perhaps other countries.”

“If they try to make an exemption for one of our member states, it means the EU as a whole,” he added, referring to this European ally in Washington who is preparing to leave the bloc on March 29, 2019.

Katainen also reiterated that the European Commission has made intensive contacts with the US authorities “to try to convince them not to cause any significant damage to the US economy and the world economy.”

Even in the United States, a hundred Republican deputies addressed a letter to Trump asking him not to impose uniform tariffs and express their “deep concern” about the consequences that the measure could entail for US companies.

The European Commission’s strategy involves three types of responses: imposing heavy tariffs on exports of emblematic products from the United States, adopting safeguard measures and a demand before the World Trade Organization (WTO).

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