Trade

EU trade boss Malmström says America is not enemy territory

Despite signs that Europes tariff war with Washington is poised to worsen in the weeks ahead, the EUs outgoing trade chief wants to reassure her successor that he will find significant allies in the United States.

In a valedictory interview with POLITICO, Europes Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström admitted that some of U.S. President Donald Trumps top trade officials have an “old fashioned” fixation with reducing deficits through tariffs, but said that Brussels still has significant allies in Congress and among business leaders.

Washington has already rolled out tariffs on European steel and aluminum and is soon expected to announce duties on billions of euros of EU goods in a tit-for-tat battle over subsidies for the aerospace giants Airbus and Boeing. Trump is also threatening to hit the European car industry with high tariffs over what he describes as an unfair playing field in the auto trade.

All of those transatlantic tensions are expected to land squarely on the desk of Phil Hogan, the Irish nominee for trade commissioner, who will face a parliamentary hearing on Monday.

“Unfortunately, I havent managed to leave that portfolio in total order for my successor,” Malmström quipped, when asked about relations with the U.S.

While the Swede has scored big wins in her tenure with landmark deals — including breakthroughs in accords with Canada, Vietnam, Japan and the South American Mercosur bloc — she also tried to push for a “value-based” approach to trade that is at odds with the transactional approach of the Trump administration.

Under her mandate, the EU has included in its new trade agreements an obligation to ratify the Paris climate deal. Malmström has also pushed for gender equality and is aiming to include language on womens rights in future agreements with Chile and New Zealand. “Just by putting it on the agenda,” the EU could nudge countries and companies to empower women, Malmström said.

Despite these attempts to modernize trade policy, Malmström also spent much of her time striking a far more defensive position against the Americans.

“You have to be very patient,” when dealing with Trump and his officials, Malmström said, with a grin. Over the past two years, she has talked dozens of times with her counterparts Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, in a constant effort to avert a full-blown conflagration.

“We do talk regularly, we have contacts and even if we disagree. Theres an ongoing conversation with Ambassador Lighthizer who I have met many times and speak to over the phone. And, you know, we talk,” she said.

The problem is that despite these regular contacts with his closest advisers, Trumps motives remain unclear. “Who thinks what in the administration is hard to know … its become a bit unpredictable. Its clear that the U.S. administration likes tariffs, and they think that tariffs can be used for all kinds of things … They have also this notion that trade is only measured by deficits or surplus, which is a bit old-fashioned, in our view,” she added.

But the EU trade chief was willing to strike an optimistic note for Hogans negotiations: Look past Trump, she said, and you will realize that Europe has more friends in Washington than youd think — and thats what will spare Europe the sort of trade war the U.S. has started with China.

“The difference is that — I mean, we talk a lot about the U.S. adminiRead More – Source

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