The European Union expects to be excluded from US steel and aluminium tariffs but will go to the World Trade Organisation to impose its own measures if Washington presses ahead, the EU's trade chief has said.

Yesterday US President Donald Trump announced import tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium but exempted Canada and Mexico and offered the possibility of excluding other allies, backtracking from an earlier stance.

EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who coordinates policy for the world's biggest trading bloc, said she shared US concerns about over-capacity in the steel sector but did not believe in tariffs as a way to solve the problem.

"Europe is certainly not a threat to American internal security so we expect to be excluded," Ms Malmstrom told reporters before speaking at a conference in Brussels.

Asked at the conference whether she was ready to react if the 28-country EU was included in the US tariffs, Ms Malmstrom said she stood ready to go to the WTO, the international trade arbiter, to impose the bloc's own safeguards within 90 days.

"We have been very clear that (the US decision) is not in compliance with the WTO, so we will go to the WTO, possibly with some other friends. We will have to protect our industry with rebalancing measures, safeguards," she said.

A WTO spokesman has said they cannot comment on the tariff announcement, adding that they are still unclear on the legal basis for the measures.

Germany has called for multilateral talks to address overcapacity in the steel sector and said it supports the EU plans to respond if Mr Trump presses ahead with the tariffs .

"The European Union has decided to respond clearly to the US measures and as the federal government we support this position," government spokesman Georg Streiter told a news conference.

"The exact nature of the (EU) steps will b edecided after a close analysis of the American measures."

Separately, Germany's transatlantic coordinator, Juergen Hardt, told Reuters the US government should have exempted its European allies from punitive tariffs imposed against steel and aluminium imports that were primarily aimed at China.

Last week European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU would have no choice but to respond in kind if the US finalised the plans to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Europe.

European industry associations called on Ms Malmstrom to respond if the EU was subjected to the tariffs, saying they would hit the steel and aluminium sectors hard.

"The loss of exports to the US, combined with an expected massive import surge in the EU, could cost tens of thousands of jobs in the EU steel industry and related sectors," said Axel Eggert, head of steel association EUROFER.

Aluminium producers' association European Aluminium called for an "immediate" implementation of measures if necessary.

Ms Malmstrom has a previously scheduled meeting with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Brussels tomorrow and said she would seek further clarity on whether the EU was going to be included in the tariffs.

Four German industry groups have warned against a "spiral of protectionism", urging the German government and the EU to remain committed to free trade.

The DIHK trade group, BDA employers association, BDI industry group and German Confederation of Skilled Crafts said: "German industry is extremely concerned about the decisionof the US government to imposed far-reaching punitive tariffs.

"To prevent a spiral of protectionism, Germany and the European Union must continue to stand up the global world trade system."