GENEVA: China led a group of 18 World Trade Organization members on Wednesday that urged US President Donald Trump to scrap his planned tariffs on steel and aluminium.
The pleas from a broad coalition of members including the European Union, Japan, Canada and Russia came at the WTO's General Council meeting, according to a trade official with direct knowledge of the meeting.
The Chinese representative, who spoke first, said Trump's intention to justify the tariffs on national security grounds would pose a systemic threat to the rules-based global trading system safeguarded by the 164-member WTO.
Canada meanwhile expressed concern that "the United States might be opening a Pandora's Box that we would not be able to close," according to the official.
Fears of an all-out trade war have risen since Trump announced the planned tariffs -- 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminium -- last week.
The world's major economies have vowed to defend themselves, including through legal action at the WTO.
But the circumstances of the case pose unique challenges for the Geneva-based WTO, which strives to foster a level-playing field in global trade.
The WTO's Dispute Settlement Body has never arbitrated a case filed under its national security clause -- known as Article 21 -- which was first enshrined after World War II in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
GATT was a predecessor to the WTO, which was not established until 1995.
The concern among WTO officials is that if a member-state, especially the world's top economy, justifies protectionist measures on national security grounds, it would trigger a free-for-all, with nations ignoring all trading rules currently on the books.
"Many members said they had fears of tit-for-tat retaliation which could spiral out of control," the trade official told reporters.
Trump's top economic adviser Gary Cohn has resigned in apparent protest over the controversial tariffs.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Washington is not seeking a trade war and the decision to impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminium imports was "thought through."