(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump ribbed a European Union trade delegation at the White House after announcing a deal Friday to increase American beef exports, joking that he was poised to impose crippling tariffs on German cars.
After the beef deal was announced and then signed, Trump returned to the podium. “We’re working on a deal where the European Union will agree to pay a 25% tariff on all Mercedes-Benzes, BMWs coming into our nation, so we appreciate that,” said Trump.
“I’m only kidding,” he quickly added.
Trump has repeatedly threatened U.S. tariffs on German cars amid disputes over trade terms, a new gas pipeline to Russia and military spending. A U.S. auto tariff would be a punch in the gut for Europe’s economy and for some of its major brands, including Daimler AG, Volkswagen AG and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG.
The president has declared foreign cars a threat to national security, and has directed U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to negotiate with exporters including Japan and the EU to reduce imports.
After delivering his punchline Friday in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Trump gestured toward the European delegation, smiling, and said: “They started to get a little bit worried.” Then he walked out.
Just over an hour later, Trump addressed reporters about trade with the EU as he left the White House for his resort in Bedminster, New Jersey: “Auto tariffs are never off the table,” he said. “If I don’t get what I want, I’ll have no choice but maybe to do that.”
(Updates with Trump comment in final paragraph.)
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