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A ship-to-shore crane loads two shipping containers onto a vessel at the Port of Savannah in Georgia.Stephen B. Morton/The Associated Press

The European Union will begin charging import duties of 25 per cent on a range of U.S. products on Friday, in response to U.S tariffs imposed on EU steel and aluminium early this month, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

The move confirms a tit-for-tat dispute that could escalate into a full trade war, particularly if U.S. President Donald Trump carries out his threat to penalise European cars.

The Commission formally adopted a law putting in place the duties on € 2.8-billion (US$3.2-billion) worth of U.S. goods, including steel and aluminium products, farm produce such as sweetcorn and peanuts, bourbon, jeans and motor-bikes.

“We do not want to be in this position,” EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a statement, adding that the “unilateral and unjustified” U.S. decision had left the EU with no choice.

She called the EU response proportionate and in line with World Trade Organization rules and said that they would be removed if Washington removed its metal tariffs. EU steel and aluminium exports now facing U.S. tariffs are worth a total of € 6.4-billion (US$7.4-billion).

Mr. Trump hit the EU, Canada and Mexico with tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminium at the start of June, ending exemptions that had been in place since March.

Canada has announced it will impose retaliatory tariffs on $16.6-billion worth of U.S. exports from July 1. Mexico put tariffs on American products ranging from steel to pork and bourbon two weeks ago.

Some of the products chosen are designed to target the states of Republicans, who are seeking to retain control of both chambers of Congress in November elections.

The EU also has in reserve potential tariffs of 10 per cent to 50 per cent that it could impose on a further € 3.6-billion (US 4.2-billion) of U.S. imports in three years’ time.