WASHINGTON (Reuters Breakingviews) - European Commission boss Jean-Claude Juncker wouldn’t pitch it this way. But on Wednesday, he and U.S. President Donald Trump essentially revived trade goals dating from the Barack Obama era. The European Union will buy more American soybeans and liquefied natural gas, while U.S. tariffs on steel imports from that region may be eliminated if the parties can agree. Other goals featured in negotiations about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, under Trump’s predecessor.
Trump and Juncker didn’t produce a significant trade deal, but they at least kicked off talks that could lead to one. Juncker visited in the wake of increasing tensions stemming from U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and the EU’s retaliatory measures. Trump has also threatened tariffs on imports of autos and auto parts, which would particularly hurt Germany.
After last week calling the EU a “foe” on trade, Trump struck a different tone. He said the meeting marked a new phase of “close friendship” with Europe. Among the goals are to eliminate tariffs for non-auto industrial goods, and reduce trade barriers in services and medical devices. The two also want to harmonize standards, reduce bureaucratic obstacles and cut costs.
Those were all aspirations of TTIP. Those talks began in 2013 but slowed in 2016 amid the UK vote to leave the EU and opposition to the deal among some of the bloc’s member states. The current representatives could easily pick up right where the Obama team left off.
But Trump and Juncker didn’t specifically mention the bigger threat to the EU, which are U.S. auto tariffs. Juncker said the two sides would hold off on additional levies during their negotiations, but Trump only said he wouldn’t “go against the spirit of this agreement.” He’s still angry about the EU’s 10 percent tariff on auto imports, compared to the 2.5 percent U.S. rate on passenger cars – though the levy on imported pickup trucks is 25 percent. He’s known to quickly change his mind and mood, and Juncker may find himself at the White House again soon.
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