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BERLIN, March 18 (Reuters) - Top German government officials on Sunday issued strong warnings to the United States about the dangers of pursuing protectionist policies but said they would continue efforts to avert planned U.S. steel and aluminium tariffs.
Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told the Handelsblatt newspaper that Washington could not drive a wedge between Germany and the rest of Europe with import tariffs, and said a global trade war would harm both producers and consumers.
Altmaier, who is due to arrive in Washington on Monday, said he had prepared for his meetings with U.S. officials in close coordination with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom.
"We are a customs union and act jointly. It cannot be in the interest of the U.S. government to divide Europe, and it also would not succeed," Altmaier, one of Chancellor Angela Merkel's closest conservative allies, told the paper.
New finance minister Olaf Scholz, a member of the Social Democrats, junior partner in Merkel's coalition government, warned that protectionism could harm the future growth prospects of the world economy.
Scholz told reporters en route to his first meeting of G20 finance ministers in Argentina that he would share Germany's opposition to the planned U.S. tariffs when he meets with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday.
German and other EU officials are pushing back hard against U.S. President Donald Trump's plans to impose duties on incoming steel and aluminium, and levy a tax on European cars unless the EU removes tariffs and trade barriers on a range of goods.
Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping also underscored the importance of multilateral cooperation in a telephone call, vowing to work out solutions to excess capacity in the world steel market within the framework of the G20.
Altmaier told the newspaper the EU was open to discussing specific areas where the United States or other countries felt disadvantaged. "Free trade clearly isn't perfect," he said.
He said he would also discuss threatened tolls on German cars during his meetings in Washington.
"German cars are so successful in all global markets because they're so good. Higher duties are the wrong answer to that."
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Gernot Heller Editing by Catherine Evans)