The European Union has said it stands ready to hit back “swiftly and appropriately” if US president Donald Trump takes unfair trade measures against the 28-nation bloc.
The EU’s warning comes less than 24 hours after Mr Trump expressed his annoyance with EU trade policy, saying this irritation “may morph into something very big”.
The stand-off contrasted sharply with relations during the administration of Barack Obama, when both sides sought to create a massive free trade zone between the EU and United States which, it was argued, could yield more than 100 billion dollars (£70 billion) a year for both sides.
On Sunday, Mr Trump said in a British television interview that “the European Union has been very, very unfair to the United States, and I think it’ll turn out to be very much to their detriment”.
He insisted that his trade issues with the EU “may morph into something very big from that standpoint, from a trade standpoint”.
In the past, Mr Trump has hinted at punitive measures against trading partners he thought were abusing the US market.
The US president last week approved tariffs on imported solar energy components and large washing machines in a bid to help US manufacturers, particularly against competition from China and South Korea. His administration has also pulled out of a Pacific trade deal and is looking to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Mr Schinas said that “while trade has to be open and fair, it also has to be rules-based”.
The issues also came to the fore during last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
In 2016, official figures show, the EU imported 246 billion euro (£216 billion) in goods from the US while exporting some 362 billion euro (£317 billion) to the country. Mr Trump has taken aim at that US deficit of 116 billion euro (£101 billion). In services, the US deficit is much smaller, at only about 13 billion euro (£11 billion).
The EU and Germany have both called for co-operation.
German government spokesman, Steffen Seibert, noted that Chancellor Angela Merkel set out in Davos last week why her government wants “an even stronger, more competitive, more self-confident EU that takes over even more international responsibility”.
“But that is not directed against anyone, including the United States of America,” Mr Seibert told reporters in Berlin. “We try for solutions, strive for co-operation that is advantageous for both partners.”