Brussels: A top European Union official reiterated the bloc’s demand for a permanent exemption from the US’s steel and aluminium tariffs, as a temporary reprieve is set to expire on May 1 and fears mount that escalating trade tensions could threaten the global economy.

European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said the EU is in close contact with US authorities to discuss trade issues, emphasizing the need for a lasting solution that would see the 28-country bloc exempt from the controversial levies.

“It’s clear that EU is open to negotiate trade and it’s open to negotiate trade also with the U.S.," he said in an interview in Washington. “But it’s not something you can do in one or two weeks. We need a solution now" over the tariffs.

The world has been struggling with how to respond to President Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from allies and adversaries alike, by invoking a national security clause under US law. The EU has said it may impose retaliatory tariffs on $3.5 billion worth of American imports if the US duties aren’t permanently remove.

“If the US is using this legal basis of national security we don’t see how the EU could be threat to the national security of the US," Dombrovskis said.

The trans-Atlantic trade tensions come on top of US commercial disputes with China and threaten to worsen the outlook for a world economy in its strongest upswing since 2011. The recent trade developments have dominated discussions at the International Monetary Fund semi-annual meetings this week in Washington, with top finance leaders warning that trade tensions risk eroding business and investor confidence.

Dombrovskis stressed the EU’s openness to discuss trade, and pointed to the bloc’s recent deals with Canada, Japan and Singapore. On Saturday, the EU and Mexico also struck an agreement in principle to upgrade their 18-year-old trade agreement, bolstering the bloc’s efforts to pry open global markets in the face of US protectionism.

Under the terms of the upgraded accord, “practically all trade in goods between the EU and Mexico will now be duty-free, including in the agricultural sector," the European Commission said in a statement. The EU is seeking to wrap up a separate set of negotiations on a free-trade agreement with the Mercosur group of Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Dombrovskis said the bloc shares some of the US’s concerns on China such as on issues related to global steel overcapacity, intellectual property practices and market openness. But he stressed that these need to be handled within an international multilateral framework, at the World Trade Organization. “That’s why we say it’s important to refrain from unilateral moves." Bloomberg

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