Uncertainty prevails as EU, US trade chiefs meet in Brussels

Source:Xinhua Published: 2018/9/10 9:27:44

Nearly one and half month after the signing of the trade truce between the European Union (EU) and the United States, the two sides finally launch their first high-profile meeting, as US trade representative Robert Lighthizer is set to land here Monday.

Reached between European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and US President Donald Trump in late July, the truce has somewhat eased trade tensions between the two sides in recent weeks, but it doesn't mean they are over.

Disagreements are already obvious.

Under the truce, the EU and US agreed to discuss non-auto industrial tariffs, liquefied natural gas and soybeans, but the United States has recently suggested it could also pressure the bloc to open up more of its agriculture market to American imports -- a controversial issue in Europe.

Besides, The EU also fears that the Trump administration would raise tariffs for European cars, which would hurt several countries in Europe, including one of its driving engines, Germany.

Germany's Handelsblatt suggested in a Sunday report that "European negotiators hope to make peace in the current trade dispute with the United States by side-stepping the hard battles."

Citing EU sources, Handelsblatt said "EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom plans to stay away from sensitive issues like autos or agriculture and focus on more humdrum problems such as US beef exports and European technical standards."

EU officials expect Lighthizer to push Europe to open up its protected agricultural market to US exports, but they hope by not including the auto industry they will give him less leverage on that issue, said the newspaper.

In that sense, the Commission's proposal for launching talks on increasing US access to a European import quota for hormone-free beef should be seen as an olive branch to some of the American demands on agriculture.

In its proposal to the European Council on Monday, the Commission suggests to allocate to the US a part of the existing quota that is also available to exporters from other countries.

"By taking this step, we are also contributing to ease tensions across the Atlantic, in line with the agreement reached by President Juncker in July," said Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan.

EU officials hope this will avoid inciting Trump into taking precipitous action like the 25 percent tariff on autos he threatened a few months ago, said the Handelsblatt in the report.

But Lighthizer takes off from Washington under a cloudy sky, as US trade gap with the EU hit new record, which runs contrary to the stated goals of Trump's multi-front trade confrontations.

Analysts feared that the high deficit could rekindle Trump's ire about how his country is treated by its trading partners, including the EU, and prompt him to take bold actions on tariffs.

However, not all Europeans are willing to appease the US

According to the Handelsblatt, some business groups in Germany have urged Brussels to "seek a comprehensive agreement with the US that reflects the goals of the now abandoned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)."

"They even want to ramp up demands, with a position paper urging the US to open up its public procurement to foreign providers," said the newspaper.


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