(Bloomberg) -- In the end, there was no last-minute flurry of negotiations. Just resignation and frustration by U.S. allies increasingly at a loss about how to engage with President Donald Trump’s administration.
Trade partners including the European Union that had hoped to win a continued waiver from American tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum knew well before the Friday deadline that the game was over.
Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, gave a speech in Brussels on Thursday afternoon armed with a separate piece of paper on which was written the bloc’s reaction should Trump decide to remove the exemption from the levies he imposed in March on national-security grounds.
Early in his speech, around the time U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was disclosing in Paris the plan to hit the EU, Canada and Mexico with the duties as of June 1, Juncker paused to inquire whether the announcement had been made.
After some confusion, Juncker was told not yet. “Where was I? Whenever I’m thinking about Trump, I’m lost,” he said before resuming his speech and being informed near the end about the announcement.
“This is a bad day for world trade,” a visibly irritated Juncker said at that point. “It’s totally unacceptable that a country is imposing unilateral measures when it comes to world trade.”
The scene encapsulated months of growing perplexity in Europe about the Trump administration following its decisions to withdraw from a landmark global pact to fight climate change, abandon an international accord to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and threaten allies with tariffs defended on obscure national-security grounds.
As with those moves, the White House decision to apply the duties of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum against the EU left the bloc wondering about the value of trans-Atlantic relations and vowing steps to counter the impact.
In this case, that means a planned EU complaint on Friday to the World Trade Organization and the imposition of a retaliatory tariff as soon as June 20 on 2.8 billion euros ($3.3 billion) of U.S. goods imported into the bloc including Harley-Davidson Inc. motorcycles, Levi Strauss & Co. jeans and bourbon whiskey. The EU is reserving the right to target more American products with further duties at a later stage.
“What they can do, we are able to do,” Juncker said.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.