European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom (L) pictured before a meeting with US trade representative and Japan's economy minister at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels on March 10, 2018
Brussels (AFP) - The EU on Monday said Europe would not waver against trade "bullies" as a row with US President Donald Trump over controversial steel and aluminium tariffs deepened.
The jab from Brussels came after the US tycoon singled out Europe in the surging trade dispute, threatening to tax German cars if the European Union doesn't lower barriers to US products.
European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said that in some places, trade has been blamed "for the pains of globalisation, or they used it as a scapegoat or they think we can live behind walls and borders".
"Recently we have seen how it is used as a weapon to threaten and intimidate us. But we are not afraid, we will stand up to the bullies," she told a trade conference in Brussels.
Trump in a tweet provoked the Europeans still further on Monday saying Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross would speak with the EU side "about eliminating the large tariffs and barriers they use against the U.S.A."
These were "not fair to our farmers and manufacturers," Trump added, though the EU could not immediately confirm any formal approach by Washington.
- Threat of countermeasures -
The US leader's threats were part of a dispute sparked by his announcement of tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, although the "America First" Trump administration has said it will consider exceptions and has already spared Mexico and Canada.
The announcement of duties of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminium has stung the EU, coming as a surprise to US allies and also to many in Washington.
Brussels has pushed back the hardest against Washington's shock measures, loudly announcing a list of US products -- including peanuts and motorcycles -- it could hit with countermeasures.
In revealing those measures, European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker taunted Trump, saying the EU could match "stupid with stupid."
France's Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, speaking in Brussels Monday said: "We don't want a trade war, but we are going to defend our economic interests, our factories, our industry and our jobs."
Other trade partners, including Japan and China, have also voiced anger and pledged retaliation if the US tariffs are enacted as expected on March 23.
- 'Historical error' -
Many traditionally pro-trade US Republican lawmakers also fiercely oppose the tariffs, saying they might help steel and aluminium makers, but would mean higher prices on many other products.
Europeans however expressed fears over the costs of escalation, taking the lead from export powerhouse Germany which has urged caution after being singled out by the mercurial Trump.
"Protectionism is always a political error, a historical error," said Spanish Economy Minister Roman Escolano as he arrived for regular talks in Brussels with his eurozone counterparts.
"Two economic and trade blocs as great as the United States and the EU can in no way see the conflict escalate," he added.
To avoid all-out trade war, Malmstroem held fruitless talks in Brussels on Saturday with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer aimed at defusing the row.
"Dialogue is always the prime option for the EU," European Commission spokesman Enrico Brivio said at a news briefing on Monday.
However, "the EU market is one of the most open in the world. If anyone starts throwing stones, it is better first to make sure you're not living in a glass house," he added.
The negotiations between the EU and the US are to win an exception for Europe from the tariffs, with Brussels seeking clarity on how to achieve that.
The EU said those efforts will continue this week, though no details for further talks have yet been announced.