President Donald Trump ratcheted up the economic pressure on the European Union over the weekend, threatening to turn allies into enemies at home and abroad with his trade pronouncements.
The decision to slap hefty tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum, which the White House made formal on Thursday, has roiled international markets, angered longtime trading partners and prompted threats from the president’s own party to stop the tariffs through legislation.
At the same time, Trump’s decision to exempt Canada and Mexico and allow other countries to avoid the penalties if they negotiate a deal to address U.S. national security concerns has set off a high-stakes rush among nations eager to avoid the penalties but unclear on what, exactly, the U.S. wants in return.
Trump stoked the fire on Saturday by suggesting even broader tariffs for the EU if it doesn’t address still-unspecified concerns.
“The European Union, wonderful countries who treat the U.S. very badly on trade, are complaining about the tariffs on Steel & Aluminum,” he posted on Twitter. “If they drop their horrific barriers and tariffs on U.S. products going in, we will likewise drop ours. Big Deficit. If not, we Tax Cars etc. FAIR!” he tweeted.
The tweet — on top of the imposition on Thursday of sweeping 25 percent tariffs on steel imports and 10 percent tariffs on aluminum imports — provoked deeper consternation.
“The problem is when you say, ‘All right, let’s have tariffs, but let’s couple that with uncertainty’ — that’s almost worse,” Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican pushing legislation to block the tariffs, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And where one person is basically deciding, you know, tariffs go up or down depending on what kind of behavior … It’s not the way to do business.”
The uncertainty has already spooked the stock market and spurred protests from industries as diverse as car parts manufacturers and soybean farmers which, until now, had cheered the president’s deregulatory agenda. Many warn they will likely raise prices on consumers because they will be forced to pay more for equipment and materials while facing retaliatory tariffs overseas.