STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
His critics warned that President Trump's plan to tax imported aluminum and steel will hurt U.S. allies in Europe, which makes some of it. Yesterday while standing beside the Swedish prime minister, President Trump essentially said that's fine with him.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The European Union has not treated us well. And it's been a very, very unfair trade situation. I'm here to protect. And one of the reasons I was elected is, I'm protecting our workers, I'm protecting our companies. And I'm not going to let that happen.
INSKEEP: We have the European Union ambassador to the United States David O'Sullivan on the line. Ambassador, good morning.
DAVID O'SULLIVAN: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Have you Europeans been unfair?
O'SULLIVAN: No. We don't think so at all. We are the largest trading partner of the United States. Eighty percent of foreign direct investment in the U.S. comes from the European Union. We create many millions of jobs in America. And, by the way, American investment is important to us. So we think that we have a very good and open trading relationship between the European Union and the United States.
INSKEEP: OK. You've made a vital point which we should underline. Foreign direct investment. You're saying that when Europe makes money, Europe will invest some of that money back in the United States - buy things, prop up companies, that sort of thing. But with that said, if we look at a country like Germany, a major trading partner with the United States, but the United States has a big trade deficit with Germany, which deeply bothers this president and quite a few Americans. Why should there be such a large trade deficit?
O'SULLIVAN: Well, there are many reasons why there can be trade deficits. One of the main ones, of course, is macroeconomic policy. America is a country that consumes a lot and saves little. This explains why in many respects you have a trade deficit with many countries. The key point here is that there are no barriers to trade between the United States and Europe. We are not a trading region, which creates barriers, artificial barriers to U.S. trade. And we also have deficits with some countries, surpluses with others. The point is that when you look at it in the round, we all gain from the investment and trade which crosses the Atlantic.
INSKEEP: What did you hear when you spoke with House Speaker Paul Ryan about your concerns?
O'SULLIVAN: Well, of course we were specifically raising the issue of possible tariffs imposed on exports of steel. We believe that the European Union is not the problem in the steel industry. In fact, we have a common problem with China. We believe we should be focusing on addressing the issue of Chinese overcapacity, which has created a problem in the global steel market. And as you've seen from his public statements, I think Speaker Ryan is also concerned that a global imposition of tariffs, including on U.S. allies, is not the way to address this problem most effectively.
INSKEEP: Can you draft a tariff in such a way that it would target China and target the dumping of steel on the U.S. or European markets without harming other countries?
O'SULLIVAN: Yes. Indeed, you can. And, in fact, the report which is on the table of the president includes a number of options. The possibility of a global tariff against all exporting countries is only one option. There is also an option of imposing tariffs only on those countries which are actually at the source of the problem, such as China.
INSKEEP: If the tariffs go ahead, if the president goes ahead with tariffs on aluminum and steel, are Europeans serious about a threat to impose tariffs of their own on Levi jeans or Kentucky bourbon or Harley Davidson motorcycles?
O'SULLIVAN: Very reluctantly, yes. I mean, we hope that this will not happen, but of course we have to act to protect our interests. We believe that these tariffs, if they were imposed, would not be justified, are not in conformity with World Trade Organization rules. And those rules entitle us to make rebalancing tariffs on U.S. exports, which we will do if we are forced to do so.
INSKEEP: So if the president starts...
O'SULLIVAN: It's not where we want to end up. We would prefer that we can find another way out of this problem.
INSKEEP: But, in 10 seconds or so - it sounds like if the president wants to start a trade war, you're ready for it.
O'SULLIVAN: We hope it would not be a trade war, but we will certainly defend European economic interests, as is our responsibility, I'm afraid.
INSKEEP: Ambassador, thanks very much.
O'SULLIVAN: You're very welcome. Bye now.
INSKEEP: David O'Sullivan is the European Union ambassador to the United States. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.