US and EU pledge action on trade, semiconductors and China

Trade and competition officials lay out lengthy to-do list following inaugural meeting

From left, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai gather for a strategic meeting with European Commission Executive Vice Presidents Valdis Dombrovskis and Margrethe Vestager during the inaugural meeting of the US-EU Trade and Technology Council. AP
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US and EU trade and competition officials launched a new forum on Wednesday joining forces to better compete with China, shield sensitive technologies, boost semiconductor supplies and co-ordinate regulation of large technology firms.

The Trade and Technology Council's inaugural meeting laid out a lengthy to-do list, setting its sights on forced labour, artificial intelligence, digital privacy and protecting human rights activists online.

Monitoring foreign investment in key sectors and controlling exports of sensitive products were also part of discussions.

“We intend to collaborate to promote shared economic growth that benefits workers on both sides of the Atlantic, [and] grow the transatlantic trade and investment relationship,” the officials said in a statement.

They also agreed that the working group on export controls would meet again on October 27.

The two sides had been hoping to make progress on several disputes, including US tariffs on EU steel and aluminium imports, and a unified stance against predatory Chinese commercial policies. But the 17-page joint statement made no specific mention of either issue and contained no references to China by name.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis attended the meeting along with European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager.

The meeting was nearly derailed by French anger over a US decision this month to supply Australia with nuclear submarines, which prompted Canberra to scrap a $40 billion submarine contract with France.

But EU governments backed a joint declaration to strengthen semiconductor supply chains expected from the meeting that says the bloc and the US share mutual supply dependencies in the near term, although a reference to a second TTC meeting in the first quarter of 2022 was dropped.

With the US and Europe trying to restrain the growing power of American tech company's such as Alphabet's Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon, co-operation has become critically important for regulators on both sides of the Atlantic. It also would make it harder for the US tech industry to fight new rules.

The officials set up 10 working groups to go over issues including climate, clean tech, technology standards and global trade issues.

Several tech trade groups in Washington said the industry does not want the European approach to digital regulation to take hold in the US.

“It is critical for US negotiators to vigorously defend US economic interests in the TTC,” the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation said in a statement.

Mr Dombrovskis, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, said the US and EU share many goals for AI, such as curbing its use for surveillance and repression, but the TTC will help where the two sides differ.

“It provides us with a forum to discuss those issues, to see where we have common ground, where we have differences and how to address those differences,” he said.

Reuters contributed to this report

Updated: September 29, 2021, 9:33 PM