The European Union has vowed to stand up to protectionist "bullies" as Donald Trump prepares to impose trade tariffs on many metal products.
Talks in Brussels over the weekend with US trade representative Robert Lighthizer failed to resolve the row – leaving the prospect of an all-out trade war firmly on the table.
At a news conference on Monday morning, the EU's trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom suggested contact with the US was likely to be maintained during the week, but insisted the prospect of tariffs was unacceptable.
"Recently we have seen how (trade) is used as a weapon to threaten and intimidate us. But we are not afraid, we will stand up to the bullies," she said.
Mr Trump later confirmed his Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross would be in contact with EU representatives.
On Thursday night, the US President confirmed he was carrying out his threat to impose 25% tariffs on imported steel products and 10% on aluminium. Only Mexico and Canada were explicitly omitted.
The European Union, wonderful countries who treat the U.S. very badly on trade, are complaining about the tariffs on Steel & Aluminum. If they drop their horrific barriers & tariffs on U.S. products going in, we will likewise drop ours. Big Deficit. If not, we Tax Cars etc. FAIR!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 10, 2018
Mr Trump said the tariffs were aimed at correcting trading imbalances going back decades that had cost US jobs and continued to threaten US manufacturers.
He said allies, particularly those with military ties, had a chance to avoid them.
But he lashed out at EU protests against the measures on Saturday when he tweeted: "The European Union, wonderful countries who treat the U.S. very badly on trade, are complaining about the tariffs on Steel & Aluminum.
"If they drop their horrific barriers & tariffs on U.S. products going in, we will likewise drop ours. Big Deficit. If not, we Tax Cars etc. FAIR!."
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The UK Government, while expressing alarm at the potential for tariffs, has said the EU is responsible for resolving the issue while Britain remains a member – but it would also fight to defend industry if tariffs were aimed at UK shores.
Brussels has threatened to retaliate with tariffs on various sectors and brands, including jeans and Harley Davidson motorbikes and Levi jeans, if the metal tariffs take effect as planned later this month.