Trump: Time to negotiate ‘very seriously’ with EU on trade

US President Donald J. Trump departs the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 10 February 2020, headed for a political rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. [Pool/EPA/EFE]

President Donald Trump said Monday (10 February) the time has come to pursue trade negotiations with the European Union which he said imposes “incredible” barriers to US goods.

“Europe has been treating us very badly,” Trump said at a White House event with US state governors.

After reaching a series of trade deals with Canada, Mexico and Japan, and a phase-one agreement with China, Trump said, “The next thing could be Europe, where we talk to them very seriously.”

Relations between the two major economies have lingered for months in a tense truce.

Trump has imposed punishing tariffs on EU goods like French wine in disputes over steel imports or government subsidies for Airbus.

US slams tariffs on EU goods, targeting Airbus, wine and whisky

The United States imposed tariffs on a record $7.5-billion worth of European Union goods on Friday (18 October), despite threats of retaliation, with Airbus, French wine and Scottish whiskies among the high-profile targets.

But so far he has held off on threatened punitive duties on European cars aimed at forcing a change in trade policy. Trump reached a ceasefire with the EU in mid-2018, when the sides agreed to pursue negotiations — talks that have not yet resulted in anything concrete.

Trump said he focused first on the dispute with China and renegotiating the continental free trade pact with Canada and Mexico because he “didn’t want to do the whole world at one time.”

‘Ready for a deal’

But Monday he renewed his complaints about EU trade policy, even claiming improbably that the economic bloc “was really formed so they could treat us badly.”

“They have barriers that are incredible,” Trump said, adding, “They’re ready for a deal.”

Trump has focused on reducing the US trade deficit with the EU which amounted to $178 billion last year, excluding services, where American firms have an advantage.

While Washington and Brussels have agreed to pursue an ambitious deal to remove trade barriers and reduce tariffs, no details have emerged from the few meetings. And a major sticking point remains, since the EU has not agreed to include agricultural goods.

EU leaders were surprised last month when European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced following a meeting with Trump that she was expecting to sign an agreement “in a few weeks.”

She said the deal would be a “new approach” from a previous attempt towards a transatlantic trade deal announced in 2017.

EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan made a surprise visit to Washington last week to meet his US counterpart Robert Lighthizer, which followed another meeting last month.

Member states ‘in the dark’ over Commission’s talks with the US

A group of EU member states are unhappy about the lack of information from the European Commission on the trade talks with the US and have expressed their “nervousness” about what could be in the deal, various diplomats and European officials told EURACTIV.

An EU spokesman said the meetings “are part of the regular bilateral contacts” between the EU and the US “for a positive bilateral transatlantic trade agenda,” without providing further details.

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