BRUSSELS -- European Union leaders vowed an unwavering response to President Donald Trump's protectionism, signaling a readiness to retaliate should the U.S. escalate a trade war with tariffs on cars.
The EU government heads repeated criticism of U.S. duties on foreign metals and expressed support for the bloc's retaliatory action over those levies, which Trump has justified on national-security grounds.
The U.S. duties of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum "cannot be justified on the grounds of national security," the 28 leaders said in a statement released Friday at a meeting in Brussels. "The EU must respond to all actions of a clear protectionist nature."
The EU reacted last week by imposing tit-for-tat tariffs on 2.8 billion euros ($3.2 billion) of imports of U.S. goods ranging from motorcycles to orange juice.
The global commercial order is being shaken by the Trump administration's use of an obscure U.S. trade-law provision on national security to justify the metal tariffs against a host of countries, including defense allies.
The EU has also complained to the World Trade Organization, calling the duties pure protectionism masquerading as national-security policy. Trump is threatening to deploy the same argument to impose U.S. tariffs on cars and auto parts within months, a step that would hit the EU in general and Germany in particular much harder than have the metal levies.
10 times greater
The value of EU automotive exports to the U.S. is about 10 times greater than that of the bloc's steel and aluminum exports combined. That means any European retaliation over car tariffs introduced by Trump would likely target a bigger sum of American goods exported to Europe than the amount hit by last week's European measures.
When the EU targets U.S. products with retaliatory duties, one of its goals is to make the administration in Washington pay a political price for protectionism. Earlier this week, after Harley-Davidson announced it would move some manufacturing outside the U.S. as a result of the EU's tit-for-tat levy of 25 percent on American motorbikes, European trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom said that fit in with the bloc's aims.
While pledging to stand up to Trump on trade, and amid a separate U.S. commercial dispute with China over intellectual property, the EU leaders on Friday also decided to push for improvements in the way the WTO operates. They said it's important to uphold the global commercial order amid "growing" tensions.
The summit statement includes a list of areas where the WTO could become more effective and asks the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, to take the lead in proposing improvements.