Canada and Mexico retaliated against the United State’s decision on Thursday to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and the European Union had its own reprisals ready to go, reigniting investor fears of a global trade war.
The tariffs, announced by US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a telephone briefing on Thursday, ended months of uncertainty about potential exemptions and suggested a hardening of the Trump administration’s approach to trade negotiations.
The measures, touted by President Donald Trump in March, drew condemnation from Republican lawmakers and the country’s main business lobbying group and sent a chill through financial markets.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 1 percent and the S&P 500 shed around 0.66 percent. Shares of industrial heavyweights Boeing fell 1.7 percent and Caterpillar 2.2 percent.
A 25 percent tariff on steel imports and 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports will be imposed on the EU, Canada and Mexico from midnight (0400 GMT on Friday), Ross told reporters.
“We look forward to continued negotiations, both with Canada and Mexico on the one hand, and with the European Commission on the other hand, because there are other issues that we also need to get resolved,” he said.
Canada and Mexico, embroiled in talks with the United States to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), responded swiftly.
Canada, the largest supplier of steel to the United States, will impose tariffs covering C$16.6 billion ($12.8 billion) on imports from the United States, including alcohol, orange juice, steel, aluminum and other products, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said.
“The American administration has made a decision today that we deplore, and obviously is going to lead to retaliatory measures, as it must,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference with Freeland.
Mexico announced what it described as “equivalent” measures on a wide range of US farm and industrial products.
The measures, which target pork legs, apples, grapes and cheese as well as steel and other products, will be in place until the US government eliminates its tariffs, Mexico’s Economy Ministry said.
The S&P 500’s packaged foods and meats industry sub-index fell 2 percent, with shares of meat producer Tyson Foods Inc falling 4 percent, Campbell Soup Co 2.5 percent and spice maker McCormick & Co Inc 3 percent.
The Mexican peso dropped about 1 percent and the Canadian dollar shed about 0.6 percent. At its low, the peso was at its weakest against the dollar in nearly 15 months.
Steel coils are stored for delivery at the production site of German steel technology group Salzgitter AG in Salzgitter. (AFP)
“It’s entirely up to US authorities whether they want to enter into a trade conflict with their biggest partner, Europe,” France’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said after meeting with Ross on Thursday.
US Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue warned in a letter seen by Reuters to the body’s board that current trade policies could threaten “economic progress” and cause the loss of more than 2 million jobs, mostly in states that voted for Trump and Republican candidates.
The tariffs are part of Trump’s effort to protect US industry and workers from what he described as unfair international competition, a key theme of his “America First” agenda.