The EU commissioner for trade, Cecilia Malmström, demanded on Wednesday (18 April) a “permanent and unconditional” exemption from US President Donald Trump´s tariffs and said the EU would not negotiate anything “under threat”.
The Swedish commissioner insisted that the EU is pushing for an unconditional exclusion from the 25% and 10% tariffs on EU steel and aluminium exports to the US, respectively, because “we are friends and allies”.
Trump announced the restrictions on steel and aluminium imports on the grounds of national security.
“Of course we are willing to talk about trade irritants” but “we are not negotiating anything under pressure”, Malmström told reporters on the sidelines of a European Parliament plenary in Strasbourg.
Malmström denied that the EU had offered to the US a “scoping exercise” to assess the possibility of a watered-down Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which was shelved after Trump’s victory.
Trump’s team expressed an interest in reviving free trade talks with the EU but European officials were sceptical, given the outstanding obstacles between the two sides in the TTIP talks.
The Swedish commissioner recalled that in order to start the exploratory talks, the Commission would need a mandate from the Council.
Trump granted an exemption to EU member states’ exports last month, which will become permanent only if both sides solve trade issues of mutual concern by 1 May.
The Europeans complained that the deadline was too tight given the numerous issues on the table, including steel overcapacity.
“We haven’t received any guarantees yet” about a permanent exemption, admitted Malmström.
European Council President Donald Tusk told the Parliament’s plenary on Wednesday that if the EU fails to convince the US, “we will have no choice but to react”.
Tusk is one of the voices supporting a fresh start for a trade agreement with the US.
“I called for a dialogue that will bring more trade between the US and the EU, not less,” he told the MEPs.
Japan and Singapore
Malmström and Vice-President for Jobs, Growth and Investment, Jyrki Katainen, spoke to reporters to present the conclusion of the trade deals with Japan and Singapore.
The agreement with Japan is Europe’s biggest trade deal ever. It will cover an area with 600 million consumers and a third of the global GDP and will eliminate duties worth €1 billion per year on EU exports to Japan.
Member states will now start the ratification process, which the Commission expects should be concluded by November 2019.
“We hope for a quick handling in the Council, so it can send it to the European Parliament as soon as possible”, Malmström said.
With these agreements, “we send a strong signal to the world that the EU is open to a rule-based trade” she said, while Katainen added:
“It is also a concrete step towards a better global trade order, based on shared values and rules”.
Global trade is facing a worsening environment because of the tariffs imposed by Trump, and the risk of a trade dispute between US and China that would affect the world economy.
Mexico and Mercosur
Against this backdrop, the EU is redoubling its efforts to conclude the negotiations with Mercosur and Mexico.
As in previous occasions, Malmström insisted that “we are close” to a deal with Mexico but did not want to commit to a deadline.
Mexican negotiators are in Brussels this week to continue narrowing the differences to modernise the 21-year old ‘global agreement’ with the bloc.
The Commission had hoped to conclude the talks by the end of last year. But EU officials took note that Mexico is under pressure on another front, as it is also negotiating the review of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) requested by Trump.
The EU executive still expects that it would reach the end line with the Mexican government before it seals a deal with the Mercosur bloc (Argentina, Brasil, Uruguay and Paraguay).
Malmström said that both sides made “immense progress but still we are not fully there”.
Mercosur experts will come to Brussels next week.
Both blocs continue to disagree over meat and other agricultural issues, public procurement and cars.
The Commission also intends to ask the Council in May to start negotiations with Australia and New Zealand.