Brussels - EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini says the bloc was not in a trade war with anyone but would defend its interests, hours after the US slapped punishing metals tariffs on Europe and other close allies.
"The European Union is not at war with anyone... the EU is a peace project, including on trade," Mogherini said at a joint press conference in Brussels with the visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Friday.
"We believe in global free fair trade and we will continue to do so," Mogherini told reporters.
"Having said that, clearly the EU has to defend its interests," she added.
Mogherini said the EU had prepared its counter-measures against the US, including a tit-for-tat threat of duties on a whole range of products including cranberries and bourbon whiskey.
She said the EU will also launch a dispute settlement procedure against the United States at the World Trade Organization, a legal process that could take years.
"This doesn't mean the United States are not our closest partners and friends. Allies they (will) stay," she said after a first round of talks with China's Wang.
EU-US trade: overall since 2008 and by category in 2017
"We work very closely with the US on most issues from security .. to international foreign policy issues and this will continue to be the case," she said.
In a veiled warning, Wang warned Washington to abide its commitments to avoid a separate US-China trade war as a 50-strong US delegation held talks in Beijing.
"We always honour our words and we expect that our partners keep their word as well," Wang said.
The US delegation is laying the groundwork for a weekend visit by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to finalise a fragile trade truce announced earlier in May.