Tariffs critics

GENEVA – US President Donald Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs met a barrage of criticism at a World Trade Organization meeting on Friday, as the European Union, Japan, Australia and others joined a debate started by China and Russia.

The EU representative dismissed US assertions that the steps were needed to protect national security, saying washington was just trying to support its industry, a geneva trade official said.

WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo said it was positive to see the discussion happening within the WTO’s walls, since taking disputes outside greatly increased “the risk of escalation in a confrontation that will have no winners”.

“Disrupting trade flows will jeopardise the global economy at a time when economic recovery, though fragile, has been increasingly evident around the world,” he said in a statement.

“I again call for restraint and urgent dialogue as the best path forward to resolve these problems.”

China and Russia have already said they are drawing up plans to retaliate to offset the impact of the tariffs.

China’s representative at the WTO meeting said the tariffs were “groundless” and violated WTO rules in multiple ways, said the trade official, who gave an account of the closed-door talks on condition of anonymity.

China’s representative said that the experience of the 1930s showed that trade barriers did the opposite of safeguarding national security, a reference to the US Great Depression and the buildup to World War II.

Russia queried the basis for temporary exemptions to the tariffs, which Washington has granted to the EU, Argentina, Australia, Canada, Mexico, South Korea and Brazil, the official said. South Korea said countries should be careful using national security as a reason for trade barriers, as it might set off a domino effect with other states piling in to justify measures to protect their own industries. Japan said the US move was regrettable, and Turkey asked how it could be in line with WTO rules, the trade official added.