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story.lead_photo.caption Peter Altmaier (left), Germany’s acting chief of finance, speaks Monday with Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos during a meeting in Brussels.

The European Union told President Donald Trump on Monday that it won't be cowed by his escalating protectionist rhetoric and talk of punitive tariffs.

"Europe is prepared," Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said Monday as he headed into a meeting with his counterparts from the rest of the euro area.

"We are not afraid. We will stand up to the bullies," Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said earlier in the day.

Trump returned to the offensive over the weekend, raising the prospect of higher levies on European cars and telling supporters at a rally that the countries of the EU have banded together "to screw the U.S. on trade." The latest brinkmanship follows new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports that are straining a trans-Atlantic relationship already tested by disputes from climate change to Middle East policy.

"Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross will be speaking with representatives of the European Union about eliminating the large Tariffs and Barriers they use against the U.S.A.," Trump tweeted on Monday. "Not fair to our farmers and manufacturers."

Trump's rhetoric drew unanimous condemnation from European finance ministers gathering in Brussels. France's Bruno Le Maire said that he's concerned about "a trade war between the EU and the U.S." while his Spanish counterpart Roman Escolano, making his debut as minister, said protectionism is always a mistake.

Malmstrom accused the Trump administration of using trade "to threaten and intimidate" Europeans and using the issue as a "scapegoat."

A meeting in Brussels between Malmstrom and her U.S. counterpart Robert Lighthizer on Saturday ended without a breakthrough, as the EU didn't receive assurances that it will be exempted from the metal tariffs. "If anyone starts throwing stones, it's better first to make sure he's not living in a glass house," European Commission spokesman Enrico Brivio said.

The bloc said that it's a close ally of the U.S. and therefore any import levies on national security grounds are unjustified. While no further bilateral meetings are planned at the moment, contacts are ongoing as the EU is racing against time to secure an exemption before the aluminum and steel tariffs are enacted in less than two weeks.

Asked to respond to Trump's accusations that the EU is imposing barriers to U.S. automakers, Malmstrom said that "it's hard to argue on Twitter over these issues, but the European Union is a very open market." The bloc does impose a 10 percent levy on U.S. car imports, but the U.S. charges a 25 percent levy on trucks and pickups, and up to 40 percent on some clothes, she said.

On average, the EU applies a 3 percent tariff on U.S. products, while the average tariff applied by the U.S. is 2.4 percent, the European Commission said, adding that isolating cars is "cherry-picking." The U.S. currently applies a 2.5 percent tariff on European car imports.

"We want free and open world trade because for consumers and for citizens this is the best situation," acting German Finance Minister Peter Altmaier said. "That's why we -- if possible -- want to avoid a trade war."

Information for this article was contributed by Alexander Weber Rainer, Buergin Anabela, Reis Viktoria Dendrinou and Richard Bravo of Bloomberg News.

Business on 03/13/2018

Print Headline: Trump's auto-tariff talk bullying, EU says

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