The row followed the intervention of the US trade representative, Charlene Barshefsky, who called on the EU to bring forward the date at which limits on Japanese car imports to the EU will be lifted.
That plea was rejected by Sir Leon Brittan, vice president of the European Commission, who said the proposal was not realistic and asked if comparable measures on US imports would be coming from Washington.
Sir Leon, who disputed Ms Barshefsky's figures, suggested that the US trade representative was striking a tough posture for electoral reasons, arguing: "It is exactly two weeks before the US [Congressional] elections."
Ms Barshefsky sparked the dispute in a speech in Brussels which argued: "As we do - for example in steel - Europe needs to share the burden. Failure to meet this challenge will increase the pressure on all of us.
"To do otherwise would risk a repeat of the 1930s when protectionism in America and Europe worsened and prolonged the depression."
Ms Barshefsky confirmed that she was pressing the EU to speed up liberalisation of import restrictions for Japanese cars and Russian steel to help the countries overcome the economic crisis.
Sir Leon produced figures designed to disprove the argument that Europe was not sharing the import burden.
In the first six months of this year total EU steel imports increased by 3.2m tons or 56 per cent, as opposed to US imports of 2m tons or 12.3 per cent, he said.
On Japanese car imports, Sir Leon pointed to last week's EU decision to increase the quota for Japanese car imports by a further 23,000.Reuse content