EU Trade chief Cecilia Malmström will request a mandate from member states to start trade negotiations on industrial goods with the US, she confirmed on Wednesday (9 January) in Washington.
“We are in the final preparations to finalise our draft mandate on industrial goods trade agreement and conformity assessment, which will facilitate trade between us”, Malmström told the press after a meeting with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthize.
The conformity assessment set out the requirements for products to be sold on the EU market and is intended to sit alongside the deal the Commission is planning to negotiate to remove tariffs on industrial goods.
Lighthizer told the US Congress about his intention to open discussions with the EU back in October, but it is not yet clear when the negotiations will start.
Since the EU has recently closed commercial deals with Canada or Japan, “it would be odd” not to negotiate with the United States, “which is our biggest investment and trade partner,” Commission vice-president Jyrki Katainen told reporters in Brussels.
Malmström did not give any detail on the scope of her mandate for the talks, although she told reporters that it will remain within the limits of the joint statement for a ‘positive trade agenda’ that presidents Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Trump signed during a meeting in July.
Therefore, agriculture will not be part of the discussions in spite of the US will. “We have made very clear agriculture will not be included,” Malmström said.
Tariffs on cars still on the table
Malmstrom’s Washington trip was part of a new round of negotiations of the executive working group Juncker and Trump put in place after their July meeting to ease transatlantic trade tensions which erupted when the Trump administration imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium imports following a report of the US Department for Trade.
A similar paper is expected to be published in late February on whether car imports are to be considered a threat to national security, as Trump suggested.
The report could lead to further tariffs targeting the European car industry.
After her meeting with Lighthizer, Malmström admitted she did not receive any assurances that tariffs on European cars would not be imposed. However, the Commission is confident that European cars will not be affected, as long as the negotiations last.
WTO talks with China in mind
Also on Malmström’s agenda was reform of the World Trade Organisation, as the EU recently tabled a proposal addressing all the concerns expressed by the US, which has threatened to leave the institution.
The meeting was held in a three-countries format, including representatives from the US and Japan, which discussed industrial subsiding, forced technology transfers, or how to increase transparency, with Chinese unfair practices in all people minds.
US officials are travelling to Beijing this week to meet their Chinese counterparts, as the truce they called in December on their trade war will soon come to an end.