BRUSSELS -- The European Union scrambled to come up with a strategy to avoid U.S. tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum, signaling a readiness to accept American import quotas and to slash some EU duties in return for a permanent waiver.
With an EU exemption from the metal levies due to lapse on June 1, European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom indicated that U.S. quotas on steel and aluminum from the bloc would be acceptable as long as they "totally respect the historical flows."
Malmstrom also said the EU was willing to discuss cuts in European import levies on industrial goods such as cars.
"I don't think the exemptions will be prolonged," she told reporters on Tuesday in Brussels outside a meeting with trade ministers from the 28-nation EU. "We have to prepare for different scenarios."
The EU is seeking to translate political pledges to stand up to President Donald Trump's protectionism into policy proposals that both threaten retaliation and offer routes away from any economically damaging trans-Atlantic trade war.
New trade talks
The balancing act was on display last week at a European summit in Bulgaria, where EU President Donald Tusk criticized the "capricious assertiveness" of the Trump administration while national government leaders quietly gave Malmstrom scope to negotiate an agreement with the U.S. over the metal tariffs.
More generally, the EU is countering Trump's "America First" agenda by pushing for free-trade accords with a range of countries around the world. In the latest development on that front, the bloc's trade ministers on Tuesday gave Malmstrom mandates to start market-opening negotiations with Australia and New Zealand.