MEPs wink at Biden, call for ending US tariff spat

Joe Biden on an official visit to Brussels when he was Vice-President of the United States in 2015. [Council of the EU]

On the very day of Joe Biden’s inauguration in Washington on 20 January, European lawmakers urged the European Commission to settle for good the trade dispute with the US that has soured transatlantic relations in recent years.

In a letter sent to trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis, the chair of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, Norbert Lins, asked the Commission on behalf of the majority of political groups “to intervene directly” in the Airbus/Boeing dispute.

Lawmakers in the agriculture committee suggested that Dombrovskis negotiate with Biden’s administration a moratorium on sanctions on both sides of the Atlantic, which would allow negotiators to find an effective and long-lasting solution to this dispute

The proposed moratorium consists of resetting customs duties for at least six months on European products destined for the US market, as well as on US products imported into the  EU, in order to resume a constructive dialogue and overcome the season of continuing retaliatory measures.

In October 2019, the US announced punitive tariffs on EU agri-food products after the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruled in their favour over EU subsidies for the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus.

The tariffs were enacted last March, concerning imports of EU products worth a total of €6.8 billion and ranging from Italian cheeses to French wines and Scotch whisky.

In retaliation, the EU has been imposing customs duties on $4 billion of American exports since the beginning of November

After issuing duties, Valdis Dombrovskis pointed out that European countries were not escalating the row but simply mirroring the US approach.

New US duties became effective at the beginning of 2021, including tariffs on new types of alcoholic drinks from the Airbus-producing nations – France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

“A conflict arising in the aeronautical field is gravely impacting agricultural communities across Europe, which are already struggling with the dire impacts of the COVID-19 crisis,” reads the letter by the German Christian-democrat MEP Lins.

Biden’s election has been hailed as a new hope for the struggling transatlantic relations and Brussels is understood to be ready to suspend tariffs if the US were willing to do the same, and if the new Biden administration would take a step back from Trump’s hardline trade stance.

“The US and the EU are historic allies and our vocation is to trade with each other,” Lins said in the letter, adding that It is crucial to establish a truce as soon as possible.

The first olive branch from the EU side came in the form of a smaller trade deal to remove EU tariffs on US lobsters, which has been interpreted as a gesture of goodwill to Biden.

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The US lobster sector is suffering from the Chinese tariffs imposed in 2018 and the effects of the Canada-EU trade deal (CETA), which makes Canadian lobsters more convenient for Europeans.

According to Lins, it is time for the Commission to seize the new momentum in Washington and set diplomacy in motion to deescalate the row with the incoming Biden administration.

However, MEPs also expressed regret that no additional financial support has yet been adopted to compensate for the losses suffered by Europe’s agri-food sectors as a result of the trade dispute.

They referred to a compensatory fund similar to the one introduced some years ago following the Russian embargo.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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