Politics

Trump, EU Chief Agree to Pursue Trade Peace Pact

President says Europe will buy more U.S. soybeans and natural gas

President Donald Trump has harshly criticized the European Union over its trade practices, but he predicted a “good” deal on Wednesday alongside its top official. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 4:52 p.m. | President Donald Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced a plan to — perhaps — end the trade conflict between America and some of its oldest allies.

Trump said he and his European Union counterpart agreed to “work together toward” bringing tariffs, other trade barriers and subsidies on non-automobile subsidies down to zero. They also announced the EU would begin purchasing more American liquified natural gas - a direct shot across the bow of Russia - and soybeans.

The mini-deal they reached, however, amounts mostly to an agreement to keep talking. The two leaders did not, for instance, strike a pact that would bring down existing import fees.

"We ... will resolve the steel and aluminum tariff issues, and we will resolve retaliatory tariffs," Trump said, but he gave no indication those U.S. and EU import fees would be dropped immediately. Juncker said the two sides will not impose any new tariffs as the talks are ongoing.

The U.S. president also said the limited pact also would benefit the American chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

The pact is a win-win for the duo.

Juncker told reporters he came to Washington to make a deal - especially on the industrial tariffs. He got a win there. Trump got wins on soybeans and natural gas.

What Trump described as a "big day" came after he slammed the European Union for months only to predict earlier Tuesday before his meetings with Juncker that he thought they would strike a trade deal that will be “good for everybody.”

Trump, who recently called the EU “a foe” when it comes to trade, floated the notion that the two sides should drop all tariffs, subsidies and other devices that affect the price of goods flowing from one side of the Atlantic to the other.

“If we could have no tariffs, and no barriers, and no subsidies, the United States would be extremely pleased,” the president said in the Oval Office at the start of several meetings with Juncker and his EU delegation.

Hours later, he and Juncker came out to the White House Rose Garden for an impromtu press conference - aides were still setting things up when reporters were summoned for a nearly hourlong wait - to announce what amounted to a trade relations peace pact between the United States and Europe.

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“We want it to be a level playing field for our farmers, for our manufacturers, for everybody,” he said. “Whether it’s with the European Union or others, it has to be reciprocal in nature at a minimum, and we’re working on that and I think we’re making tremendous strides.”

The day was vintage Trump: He often criticizes other world leaders and lawmakers, only to be upbeat when appearing with them in public.

The president, just days after the “foe” declaration, agreed with Juncker at the start of their meetings that the two sides should not talk at the other.

"We are close partners, allies — not enemies,” Juncker said as Trump nodded and said, “Yes.”

“We have to work together. … I think we have to talk each to another, and not at another,” he said. “We should focus on reducing tariffs, not increasing them. And that’s what we have to do. That’s our job.”

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The EU’s trade tactics have irked Trump about as much as his have irked Republican lawmakers, many of whom have called for the GOP chief executive to drop his trade dispute with America’s allies and adversaries.

The Trump administration on Tuesday announced a multibillion-dollar aid package for U.S. farmers caught up in the trade tussle. China and the EU have responded to Trump’s tariffs on their goods by slapping their own import fees on American items.

The president met with a group of lawmakers from agriculture states and districts later Wednesday to discuss that package and his ever-expanding trade conflicts. And he name-checked each one as they watched his hastily planned joint press conference with Juncker.

He appeared to send a message to them and other members with a fiery tweet Wednesday morning.

“Every time I see a weak politician asking to stop Trade talks or the use of Tariffs to counter unfair Tariffs, I wonder, what can they be thinking?” he wrote. “Are we just going to continue and let our farmers and country get ripped off? Lost $817 Billion on Trade last year.”

The president, who former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon last week said is “attracted” to strongman leaders, offered some advice on toughness to his trade skeptics: “No weakness!”

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The run-up to the White House meetings with the EU chief and agriculture lawmakers featured a string of threats by Trump. He recently warned the EU to strike a deal or he would impose new penalties on European-made cars manufactured by companies such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

On Tuesday,  the president said his threat to slap tariffs on European-made automobiles is what prompted senior European Commission officials to schedule meetings with him.

“I said, ‘We’re going to tariff your cars.’ They said, ‘When can we show up? When can we be there? Would tomorrow be OK?” Trump recalled. 

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