BRUSSELS — U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer met Saturday with his E.U. and Japanese counterparts, but the meeting offered little new clarity amid fears of a global trade war.
The talks came days after President Trump announced new tariffs on U.S. imports of aluminum and steel.
The meeting, which was planned before Trump’s Thursday trade announcement, was Europe and Japan’s first chance to press their case for an exemption to the tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum. Trump said Thursday that countries with a “security relationship” with the United States could push to be excluded.
The rollout has left countries confused about their chances at getting onto the no-tariff list, and in at least one case, that of Australia, the deed seemed to have been accomplished with a phone call from the country’s prime minister to Trump.
In Brussels, the capital of the European Union, Saturday’s meetings appeared inconclusive.
“I had a frank discussion with the US side about the serious pending issue of steel/aluminum tariffs,” the top E.U. trade official, Cecilia Malmstrom, wrote on Twitter after the meeting. “As a close security and trade partner of the US, the EU must be excluded from the announced measures. No immediate clarity on the exact US procedure for exemption however, so discussions will continue next week.”
Lighthizer made no public comment after the meetings with Malmstrom and Japanese Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko, which stretched several hours.
The 28-nation European Union, which negotiates trade policy as a bloc, has warned that it will challenge the tariffs at the World Trade Organization. The E.U. is also readying a list of countermeasures targeting about $3.5 billion in annual trade. Many of the measures would raise tariffs on U.S. products from politically sensitive areas, such as the home districts of congressional leaders, and would range from motorcycles to bourbon to peanut butter.
It remains unclear how hard it would be for the European Union to win an exemption. When Trump unveiled the new tariffs on Thursday, he exempted Canada and Mexico. On Friday, he appeared to add Australia to the list.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull “is committed to having a very fair and reciprocal military and trade relationship. Working very quickly on a security agreement so we don’t have to impose steel or aluminum tariffs on our ally, the great nation of Australia!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Trump cited national security concerns as the legal basis for the tariffs, a permissible reason under WTO rules. But E.U. leaders, most of whom are also NATO allies, say the argument is illegitimate because even during crisis they could still be expected to be reliable sources of the materials. Instead, they said, Trump is bolstering domestic industries in violation of international trade rules.
Some European policymakers said they worried the tariffs were part of a broader assault by the Trump administration on ties between Europe and Washington, which has been the backbone of the post-World War II Western order.
The United States was “the steward, the leader, of establishing, of developing a system of international relations,” Norbert Röttgen, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel who is the head of the foreign affairs committee of the lower house of Germany’s Parliament, said at a conference in Brussels. “Now we have a different approach.”
“We are living in historic times of unraveling,” he said.