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January 29, 2018 4:45 PM, EST

Europe to Trump: If You Want a Trade War, You’ll Get One

President Donald Trump looks on ahead of a special address on the closing day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 26 (Jason Alden/Bloomberg News)

The European Union gave President Donald Trump a fresh warning about any U.S. curbs on imports from Europe by pledging rapid retaliation, highlighting the persistent risk of a trans-Atlantic trade war.

The EU fired the shot across the U.S. bow after Trump said in an interview with ITV broadcast over the weekend that he has “a lot of problems with the European Union.” This “may morph into something very big” from “a trade standpoint,” he said.

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The alert by the European Commission also follows Trump’s decision last week to impose tariffs on U.S. imports of solar panels and washing machines on the basis of rarely used “safeguard” rules. In addition, it comes amid a continuing threat by Washington to curb American purchases of foreign steel and aluminum on national-security grounds.

“The European Union stands ready to react swiftly and appropriately in case our exports are affected by any restrictive trade measures from the United States,” Margaritis Schinas, chief spokesman of the commission, the 28-nation EU’s executive arm, told reporters on Jan. 29 in Brussels. He declined to elaborate, saying his “point is better understood if I don’t.”

The EU is seeking to keep markets open worldwide in the face of Trump’s anti-globalization stance and to underscore the bloc’s continuing commercial clout as the U.K. prepares to leave in March 2019. The EU recently struck free-trade pacts with Canada and Japan, is pushing to wrap up a deal with Latin America and is gearing up for talks with Australia and New Zealand.

Trans-Atlantic Tensions

President Donald Trump says the Europe has `unfair’ advantage in trade with the U.S.

Jan. 25, European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said the Trump administration has left the world perplexed by withdrawing from global affairs and has given the EU more scope to act.

Global Scene

“Many countries are puzzled a little bit about the lack of leadership from the United States,” Malmstrom said. “They are disengaging from the global scene; that leaves a place open for the European Union to show that we can do good trade agreements.”

In his comments on Jan. 29, Schinas said the EU is committed to the multilateral economic order in place since the end of World War II and underpinned by the World Trade Organization.

“Trade can and should be win-win,” he said. “While trade has to be open and fair, it has also to be rules-based.”