President Donald Trump called on the European Union to enter into negotiations to reduce trade barriers during a telephone call with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday, as the world’s largest economy is already moving to the brink of a trade war with China.
Mr Trump and Mr Macron discussed North Korea, Syria and Iran as well, according to an emailed statement from the White House Press Office. On the French side, the Elysee put out a statement saying that a call had taken place and that trade was discussed amid other topics.
The EU refuses to engage in formal discussions about a trade agreement in the US while its industries are subject to punitive tariffs on steel and aluminum, which Trump introduced earlier this month. It is “ready to talk about trade liberalisation with our American friends but only if the US decides an unlimited exemption from steel and aluminum tariffs,” EU Council President Donald Tusk said last month after a meeting with the bloc’s leaders.
Since aluminum and steel tariffs kicked in, the door for talks about limited trade liberalisation is closed, an EU government official said when asked to comment on Trump’s request. The bloc is also bracing for additional tariffs on car exports to the US later this year, which will further sour the relations with the Trump administration, the official added.
Trump is shaking up the world economic order with his zeal for tariffs and embrace of trade conflict. After imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, along with solar panels and washing machines, his administration has announced tariffs on Chinese imports to take effect within weeks, prompting immediate retaliation from Beijing. Tensions have mounted also with the EU as the US puts into question landmark international agreements, from trade to climate change and defense.
US steel and aluminum tariffs remain in place after a tense G-7 meeting early June with counter-tariffs from the EU and Canada due to take effect in a few weeks.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas this week called on the EU to unite and fill the void left by the US drawback from global agreements that have underpinned trans-Atlantic relations for decades. To counter US retrenchment, Mr Maas said the EU must redefine its relationship with the US and take on greater global responsibility, including on foreign policy and defense.