EU 'reserves right' for counter-measures in Trump trade row

Brussels (AFP) - EU leaders on Friday said they would maintain a threat to hit the US with counter-measures -- that include tariffs on Harley Davidson motorcycles and bourbon -- as long as a metals tariffs exemption granted by Washington remained temporary.

After a discussion at an EU summit in Brussels, leaders said in a statement the bloc would "reserve its rights, in compliance with World Trade Organization rules, to respond to the US measures as appropriate and in a proportionate manner."

Trump on Thursday authorised the suspension of controversial tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from key trade partners including the European Union, but only until May 1.

The commission earlier this month drew up a list of potential counter-measures, including tariffs on peanut butter, motorcycles and denim jeans, in case Trump slapped on the tariffs.

"We now look forward to pursuing a dialogue with the US on trade issues of common concern, such as global steel overcapacity," EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said in a tweet.

"These discussions between allies and partners should not be subject to artificial deadlines," she added.

Trump's exemption landed just before a Friday deadline, and came after eleventh hour talks in Washington between Malmstroem and top US officials.

Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and South Korea were also spared.

"We are just starting a negotiation with the European Union because they've really shut out our country to a large extent, they have barriers.. very strong tariffs," Trump said in Washington on Thursday.

- 'Gun to our head' -

Some leaders bristled at Trump's tactics and said that his methods were unworthy of close allies.

"This gives the impression that the head of the United States is looking to negotiate with the European Union with a gun to our head," said Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.

Speaking in Paris, EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici warned that the "devil was in the details".

"This decision is temporary and will require exchanges with Washington and we will have to prepare for all eventualities," Moscovici told France Inter radio.

Despite the apparent climbdown toward Europe, Trump has sparked fresh trade war fears by imposing huge tariffs on Chinese imports with Beijing unveiling its own measures against US goods.