UK Politics

Trade tariffs: UK must stand up to 'bully' Trump - Labour

Donald Trump Image copyright Reuters

The UK must not allow President Trump to "bully" his trading partners, the shadow international trade secretary has said, amid fears of a looming trade war over US tariffs on metals imports.

Labour's Barry Gardiner said the move to impose levies on aluminium and steel from Europe was "based on a lie".

He said the government and EU should work "decisively" on counter-measures.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said he hoped the US would think again and "tit-for-tat" action was an option.

The tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium, which affect the EU, Canada and Mexico, come into effect on Friday.

Mr Trump first announced the plans in March but granted some exemptions while countries negotiated. He justified the tariffs by arguing US producers are vital to national security and were threatened by a global supply glut.

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Media captionShadow Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner told Today the UK risks high tariffs outside the EU

Mr Gardiner said such claims were "based on a lie" and it was simply an act of economic protectionism.

He said Europe needed to show it would not be "cowed" and should pursue "proportionate" action through the World Trade Organisation.

"We believe in a multilateral rules-based system," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. President Trump does not. He wants to break up that system.

"We have to see this as part of a pattern of behaviour and respond strongly to it and make clear to him we are not susceptible to the intimidation, threats and bullying that he is putting in place."

Leaders from other affected nations reacted furiously, setting out tariffs on the US, ranging from steel to sleeping bags and ballpoint pens.

International Trade Secretary Mr Fox said the move was "disappointing", adding "in the case of the United Kingdom, where we send steel to the United States that is vital for their businesses and their defence industry, it is patently absurd".

He said he would speak to US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross on Monday but added the UK "absolutely do not rule out counter-measures".

'Stupid'

Former Conservative trade minister Lord Maude said the tariffs were "stupid and counterproductive" and would only hurt US consumers.

But he warned the government against doing anything " stupid and unreasonable ourselves" in response.

Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable said Washington's actions were "petty and most probably illegal".

"Trump's trade war is ultimately self-defeating," he said.

"We know he's illogical and stubborn, but he claims to be a good businessman. Trump must back down."

According to UK Steel - the body which represents steel producers across the country - 7% of steel exports, worth £360m, go to the US.

About 31,000 people across the UK work in steel production and many more in the supply chain. There are steel mills in north-east and northern England, the East Midlands and Wales.

Tata Steel, which employs 8,500 people across the UK, including 7,000 in Wales, has called for "swift and robust action" in response to the steel tariffs.

UK exports of aluminium to the US are tiny, but in March the UK's Aluminium Federation said it was concerned about the impact 10% tariffs could have.

Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns spoke to the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, about the tariffs.

A Welsh government spokesman said: "The Secretary of State gave assurances that the UK government is fully committed to reaching a successful resolution."

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