U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has called out the European Union for opposing trade negotiations at a time when China was willing to hold talks.
"China are paying their tariffs," Ross told the panel at an economic development forum in Paris on Wednesday, in response to EU criticism of sweeping import tariffs the White House announced on its trade partners all over the world in March.
"China hasn't used that as an excuse not to negotiate... It's only the EU that is insisting we can't negotiate if there are tariffs," he added.
President Donald Trump's protectionist move, which would impose a 25 percent levy on all steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum, garnered instant criticism upon its announcement from Republicans and Democrats alike and saw trade partners threatening to retaliate. The administration has delayed the imposition of the levies, extending negotiations with partners Canada, the EU and Mexico by 30 days to the tail end of May. Leaders now await a decision from Washington.
EU lawmakers have said they are open to discussions, but would not "negotiate under threat" — this was reiterated by Dutch Foreign Trade and Development Minister Sigrid Kaag, also on the panel, who expressed a stark difference in opinion from her American counterpart.
"EU leaders have expressed the expectation that there should be an unlimited exemption," Kaag said in response to Ross, pointing out that the U.S. and Europe are historic allies across a number of areas from trade to security, making them a wholly different case to China.
"We're finding ourselves in a situation we shouldn't be at," she said, adding that, "dialogue with the U.S. remains primordial… the fact China continues negotiations I don't think applies to us in this case, I don't think that's an argument. I understand, but I disagree."
Kaag said the European bloc would wait for a decision in the coming days, reiterating that the U.S. remains very important and that she believed they would find a way forward.
"I'm sure we will, and there can be negotiations with or without tariffs in place," Ross said. "God knows, there are plenty of tariffs the EU has on us. So it's not that you can't talk just because there are tariffs."