The EU's own top trade official warned Tuesday that the bloc's last-ditch bid to persuade US President Donald Trump to back off stiff tariffs on metals imports from Europe fell short of expectations in Washington.
Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom spoke ahead of talks of the EU's 28 trade ministers to discuss an attempt to woo the US away from punishing steel and aluminium tariffs and win Europe a similar break as handed China.
Europe was hit by the shock tariffs in March, part of the protectionist president's threat of an "America First" trade war with Washington's closest partners, including Canada, Mexico and Japan.
"If we are exempted, then we are willing to engage in talks and see how we can facilitate trade relations," said Malmstrom.
She has spearheaded a series of talks with US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a stalwart of Trump's hardball tactics who also plays a role in the parallel negotiations with China.
But asked if she thought the EU's gesture to the US was acceptable to Washington, Malmstrom answered: "I think they don't think it's enough."
The ministers will take encouragement from the US-China development on Sunday with Washington and Beijing backing off from tit-for-tat tariffs after reaching an as-yet unspecified accord on slashing the massive American trade deficit with China.
The European Union has said it refuses all trade talks with the United States unless Washington grants a permanent exemption from the painful steel and aluminium tariffs that are set to kick in on June 1.
"We are allies but we are not vassals. Today is a moment of truth for the EU," said French trade minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne as he arrived for the talks.
EU trade ministers will discuss a plan laid out by EU leaders at a summit last week for a limited EU-US trade deal as well as opening up the European market to US natural gas -- if the exemption is granted.
Europe's incentives come with a threat to retaliate against the US with European tariffs on American imports, including iconic items such as Harley-Davidson motorbikes and bourbon whiskey.
These counter-measures will officially become enforceable on June 20, but Europeans have committed to not use them as long as talks with the US are ongoing.