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EU seeks permanent exemption from US import tariffs

Brussels - EU leaders called Friday on the United States to grant the European Union a permanent exemption from import tariffs on steel and aluminium products, after Washington agreed to lift the levy as long as talks with the bloc are under way.

US President Donald Trump announced March 8 that global tariffs of 25 per cent on foreign steel and 10 per cent on aluminium imports would be imposed within 15 days, triggering outrage and a flurry of diplomatic efforts by Europe to secure an exemption.

EU calls for permanent exemption

On Thursday, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said that Europe, Australia, Argentina, Brazil and Korea would all be spared the tariffs while these negotiations are under way. Trump also exempts Canada and Mexico from the tariffs.

"The European Council regrets the decision by the United States to impose import tariffs on steel and aluminium," EU leaders said in a joint statement Friday, on the second day of a two-day summit in Brussels.

"It takes note that shipments of steel and aluminium from the EU have been temporarily exempted from such measures, and calls for that exemption to be made permanent," the statement added.

The bloc has argued that it is cooperating with Washington to address the source of the overcapacity problems in the steel sector - which both sides blame in part on a glut of cheap Chinese exports - and that the EU is not a security threat to the US.

Trump had justified the move with a rarely used US law authorizing presidential action against imports that undermine national security.

British Prime Minister Theresa May stayed on for the trade discussion, which was carried over from Thursday's agenda. Friday's talks were initially due to focus only on Brexit issues and eurozone reforms.

EU seeks dialogue

She reiterated Britain's desire to ensure that the temporary tariff waiver "does become a permanent exemption for the European Union."

"I stayed on to be part of that discussion because the steel industry is important to the United Kingdom and I want to ensure that the UK steel industry and its workers are safeguarded," May added.

Meanwhile, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom called the US import tariffs a "highly unfortunate unilateral action, which goes against agreed international rules."

The EU looks forward to "pursuing a dialogue" with Washington on steel overcapacities and other challenges, she said on Twitter.

"These discussions between allies and partners should not be subject to artificial deadlines."

EU leaders noted that the bloc reserves the right, if necessary, "to respond to the US measures as appropriate and in a proportionate manner."