A Surprising Agreement Between the EU and U.S. on Transatlantic Trade

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On July 25, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and U.S. President Donald Trump struck an agreement on transatlantic trade during President Juncker’s visit to Washington D.C. after three and a half hours of negotiations.

Most interestingly for IPC, both parties agreed to work together on a reform of the WTO to address unfair trading practices, including intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, industrial subsidies, distortions created by state owned enterprises and overcapacity. These priorities have been clearly set having China in mind.

The EU and U.S. also committed to work towards zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods, strengthen their cooperation on energy and establish a dialogue on standards in order to ease trade, reduce bureaucratic obstacles and slash costs. President Juncker resisted US demands to include agricultural products in the scope of products that should be subject to zero tariffs, arguing he did not have the mandate from EU Member States for doing so while stressing the EU would ask for the abolition of the ‘Buy American Act’ in return.

In addition, the two sides agreed to immediately set up an Executive Working Group to facilitate commercial exchanges and assess existing tariff measures. This body will be chaired by Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström and the USTR Robert Lighthizer. Both parties pledged to hold off from imposing further tariffs on each other as long as negotiations are ongoing. Yet, no deadline has been set to finalise the negotiations to Juncker’s satisfaction, while this working group is due to finalise its work in the coming months. 

The View from Europe

The news was welcomed by the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, which noted this is a step in the right direction towards de-escalation, adding that there are still a number of issues to be worked out. BUSINESSEUROPE, the group representing European employers, voided its support for a reform of the WTO with modern and more effective rules in order to improve the world trading system.

Reactions at the Member State level varied, with Germany praising the deal as a breakthrough, while France voicing skepticism, focused on the continuing of “illegal tariffs imposed by the U.S on steel and aluminium”, as well as the closed US public procurement market. 

Towards a New TTIP?

These announcements mark a detente in the transatlantic relationship, which have considerably deteriorated in recent months after President Trump imposed tariffs on nearly all U.S. imports of steel and aluminium, including those from the EU, and threatened to impose a 20% tariff on cars imported from the EU. The EU had responded by imposing retaliatory tariffs on roughly €2.8 billion ($3.3 billion) of U.S. goods, including products like blue jeans, motorbikes, boats and bourbon and by launching legal proceedings against the U.S. in the WTO.

President Trump’s sudden openness to compromise seems to stem from the fact that EU, Chinese and Mexican countermeasures have impacted the revenues of U.S. car manufacturers and farmers, who called this week to put an end to ongoing trade wars.

The points agreed between the EU and the US (reduced custom duties, bringing technical standards closer through regulatory collaboration and removing bureaucratic obstacles) strongly resembles those of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), halted after President Trump took office in January 2017. However, the scope of the agreement is limited to industrial goods and does not encompass agriculture and services. Moreover, it is not intended to include a chapter on investments and arbitration tribunals, a point receiving widespread condemnation by NGOs and civil society.

In the meantime, questions remain in Europe over the legality of such an agreement, as the European Commission can only engage in trade talks, following a mandate by Member States. There are also questions as to the legal form this agreement will take. Once further elaborated, this transatlantic trade deal will still have to be endorsed by EU trade ministers and voted on by the Plenary of the European Parliament to enter into force.

Could this be the beginning of a renewed EU-US trade dialogue? Will the two sides manage to iron out the details of their agreement and find a way to implement them? As the devil is in the details, there are key outstanding questions that could make or break the seemingly new rapprochement in transatlantic trade relations.



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