×

US tariffs are an ‘unnecessary test’ to Europe’s economic recovery, top finance chief says

  • The euro area has been growing at a gradual pace over the last two years following a sharp downturn due to the sovereign debt crisis of 2011.
  • But the current threat of higher tariffs with key trade partners, especially the U.S., could prove a challenge for the euro area’s fragile recovery.
Mario Centeno, Portugal's finance minister and head of the group of euro-area finance ministers, listens during a press conference following a Eurogroup meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. 
Mario Centeno, Portugal's finance minister and head of the group of euro-area finance ministers, listens during a press conference following a Eurogroup meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. 

Higher trade tariffs coming from the U.S. are not what the euro zone needs right now following several years of a promising recovery, a high-ranked European official told CNBC.

The 19-member region that shares the single currency has been growing at a gradual pace over the last two years following a sharp downturn due to the sovereign debt crisis of 2011. But the current threat of higher tariffs with key trade partners, especially the U.S., could prove a challenge for the euro area’s fragile recovery.

“This is a major risk that we see for the global economy and certainly for the relationship between the U.S. and Europe,” Mario Centeno, who heads the group of 19 finance ministers for the euro area, told CNBC Wednesday, speaking on increased duties coming from the U.S.

The region grew at a rate of 2.4 percent in 2017 — an expansion not seen in about a decade. However, the economic momentum has cooled down in the start of 2018 — something that higher trade barriers could dampen further.

“We don’t know exactly how it will evolve, but I agree with those that see this process as an unnecessary test to the economic recovery, and actually to the (economic) expansion that our economies were experiencing,” Centeno said.

He added that right now it is important to work toward a limit to the tariffs both in scope and duration.

The European Union is currently studying ways to prevent an escalation in trade tensions with the White House. Media reports earlier this week suggested the EU could propose a deal to the world’s biggest car exporters and thus prevent wider ramifications in case President Donald Trump moves ahead with a 25 percent tax on European carmarkers.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also warned in June that higher trade tariffs are the biggest single risk to the euro zone economy. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde told CNBC that the problem now is not the direct economic impact of higher duties, but “the breach in confidence that undermines the relationship” between both the U.S. and Europe.

Lagarde also warned that if the trade tensions escalate further, then the direct impact on the economy will become more substantial.

Until now, Trump has only raised tariffs against the EU on steel and aluminum exports. However, more recently, Trump threatened to put a 25 percent added tax on European cars.

The EU is the largest exporter of motor vehicles in the world, whereas the United States is the largest importer of motor vehicles in the world.

Correction: This article, including the headline, has been updated to correct a quote from Mario Centeno where he stated that tariffs would be an unnecessary test to the euro zone.