BERLIN -  Berlin has strongly protested a move by the United States to slap punitive "anti-dumping" duties on steel plate products from companies in Germany and six other nations.

Germany said the EU should consider filing a complaint with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in what threatens to turn into a major trade row under US President Donald Trump, who has promised protectionist measures to put "America First".

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the step breached global trade rules and unfairly disadvantaged suppliers in Germany, as well as in Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. The former economy minister warned that to deliberately violate WTO rules "is a dangerous step" and that "Europeans cannot accept this".

He said he had noted "with utter incomprehension" the decision by the US Commerce Department on imports of carbon and alloy steel plate products that impacts German companies Salzgitter AG and Dillinger Huette. "Despite our efforts and repeated interventions by the European Union, the US Commerce Department has applied calculation methods that contravene WTO rules with the aim of harming US competitors in the steel industry," he said.

The goal was "to protect US industry by placing the superior German steel industry at a disadvantage," he added. US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, formerly on the board of steel and mining giant ArcelorMittal, said Thursday the foreign producers were selling their products at unfairly low prices in the US market and that US customs could therefore impose duties on the imports.

The punitive duties ranged from 3.62 percent to 148.02 percent, targeting materials that are used in a range of sectors from construction, infrastructure and mining to ships, railway cars and machines. Gabriel said the US move was "significant because it is the first anti-dumping procedure in the steel sector under the new administration".

"The US government is apparently prepared to provide American companies with unfair competitive advantages against European and other companies, even if this is contrary to international commercial law." "The EU must now examine whether it will file a complaint with the WTO. I strongly support this," he said.

Salzgitter called the US decision "incomprehensible", while the Dillinger group said it has halted deliveries to the US since the punitive tariffs were announced. "Due to the duties imposed and ahead of the final decision, Dillinger will examine how we can better serve our customers in the US in the future," it added in a statement.

Urging the EU to "clearly stand up to the US government" over the issue, Gabriel warned that "if the USA gets away with unfair competition, other industries will face the same threat."