EU trade tariffs take effect in latest rift between U.S. and its closest allies

The European Union has levied tariffs on goods worth $3.2 billion — including bourbon, jeans and motorcycles — in response to the Trump administration's steel and aluminum tariffs on European exports to the United States.
(Timothy A. Clary / AFP/Getty Images)
Washington Post

After months of escalating trade tensions between Europe and the United States, the European Union’s retaliatory tariffs took effect Friday, ushering in a new era of hostility between the Trump administration and some of America’s closest allies.

The tariffs — on goods worth $3.2 billion, including Harley Davidson motorcycles and Levi’s jeans — come as a targeted response to President Trump’s earlier decision to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on European exports to the United States, a move that EU leaders have declared illegal on numerous occasions and will contest before the World Trade Organization.

In a speech Thursday in Dublin, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, decried once again what he suggested was unnecessary aggression from the White House. Trump’s tariffs, he said, contradict “all logic and history.”


“We did not want to be in this position,” Cecilia Malmström, the EU’s trade chief, said in a statement Wednesday. She had earlier sought to dispel anxieties that the situation would become a trade war. “However, the unilateral and unjustified decision of the U.S. to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on the EU means that we are left with no other choice,” she said.

The new tariffs target a wide range of American products, but the EU’s list includes a number of products chosen specifically to exact a political price from Trump and his supporters.

“If we chose products like Harley Davidson, peanut butter and bourbon, it’s because there are alternatives on the market,” said Jyrki Katainen, the European Commission’s vice president for growth, jobs and investment, in a statement. “We don’t want to do anything that would harm consumers. What’s more, these products will have a strong symbolic impact.”

One of the most frequently discussed items on the EU’s list is bourbon, a specialty from the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Also on the list are cranberries, which often come from the home state of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), and orange juice, produced in the key swing state of Florida.

The EU’s tariffs are not the first retaliation in the escalating global trade war started by the Trump administration: Mexico and China have already launched retaliatory tariffs of their own, while Canada and Japan are soon likely to follow suit.

But the EU tariffs also come in addition to a historic decline in transatlantic relations, especially in the aftermath of the Group of Seven summit in Quebec earlier this month, when Trump withdrew the United States from a multilateral communiqué at the last minute.


As he sought to reach a denuclearization agreement with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Trump has minced no words in chastising his European counterparts. This has especially been the case with regard to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leader of Europe’s largest economy and most populous nation.

‘The people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition,” Trump tweeted earlier this week.

“Crime in Germany is way up. Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!” (In fact, according to the German government, crime dropped to a 25-year low last year.)