LONDON, March 20 (Reuters) - Imports of steel into the European Union have risen ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump's planned metals tariffs, European steel industry association Eurofer said, calling on EU leaders to take action to protect jobs.
Trump's plan to impose import tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminium takes effect on Friday, raising concerns about retaliatory measures that could spiral into a global trade dispute that damages growth.
The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, has said that if the EU was not exempted, it would set retaliatory tariffs of 25 percent on a range of U.S. products, whose annual imports to the bloc are worth 2.8 billion euros ($3.45 billion).
"We are already seeing the effects of Trumps announcement", said Axel Eggert, director general of Eurofer. "In the first two months of this year, imports surged by 12 percent over and above the historic highs of 2016-2017."
About 40 million tonnes of steel are imported into the EU each year.
Eurofer estimates up to 13 million tonnes of steel that would have gone to the United States could be redirected due to Trump's tariffs, and says most of it could head to EU markets.
The association wants the EU to impose "safeguard" measures that would limit imports of steel products covered by the U.S. tariffs to levels of the past few years.
The EU has said it plans to impose safeguards but has not said how comprehensive they would be.
"We continue to expect a swift response from the European Commission implementing safeguard measures, helping to assuage fears over a significant pullback in pricing due to imports," said investment bank Jefferies in a note.
Despite a rise in imports, Jefferies said offer prices were only at marginal discounts and domestic EU steel prices had continued to rise, highlighting a tight supply demand balance.
The EU steel sector employs some 320,000 people directly and millions more indirectly.
(Reporting by Maytaal Angel Editing by Edmund Blair)