The US must stop threatening the EU over tariffs

 
 

Tariff threats, intimidation, divisive rhetoric: Donald Trump’s negotiating tactics with the EU are as clumsy as they are alienating. The rules-based trading system remains the centrepiece of European economic interest. US envoys are welcome to work with us on making it more effective. But only a transatlantic partnership based on mutual respect can respond to the great challenges of our time.

 

Opinion EU trade
The US must stop threatening the EU over tariffs
BERND LANGE
The bloc should not hold trade talks until US disregard for our values changes


Tariff threats, intimidation, divisive rhetoric: Donald Trump’s negotiating tactics with
the EU are as clumsy as they are alienating. In his latest attempt to undermine EU unity, Mr Trump gathered the chief executives of German carmakers at the White House for direct tariff talks. The meeting came just hours after the US president had proclaimed himself “Tariff Man” on Twitter. Meanwhile in Brussels, his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, delivered an ill-advised speech that highlighted his love for nationalism and his aversion to the European project.

It is true that European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker tried to pacify growing transatlantic tensions over the summer by offering to negotiate with Mr Trump on industrial tariffs, standards, and reform of the World Trade Organization.

I was highly sceptical at the time that the US intended to deliver on this temporary truce and now American envoys are questioning the terms of the 25 July joint statement. Moreover, they display utter disregard for standard EU procedures in preparing for formal trade negotiations.

Finally, having brought the EU, China and others to the negotiating table with tariff threats, the US now regularly turns to blackmail.

In Brussels, US trade envoys threaten us with a blatantly illegal 25 per cent US tariff on European cars and car parts if EU negotiatorsv — and trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in particular — do not expedite their efforts to come to a trade deal that is to Mr Trump’s liking. At the WTO in Geneva, we are being warned to consider carefully our broader economic, political, and security interests before suing the US at the world’s trade court for the country’s imposition of illegal steel tariffs this year.


As chairman of the European Parliament’s international trade committee, I remain unconvinced that the EU should enter into formal negotiations under such troubling conditions.


Our American partners need more time in order to fully appreciate our principles, objectives, and red lines, both in terms of process and substance. Submission to Mr Trump’s ever changing demands would not mark the end but the next stage of transatlantic misadventures. The EU must avoid giving the impression that threats and intimidation can drive the timetable and content of negotiations.


The US, in my view, has failed to satisfy six conditions needed to qualify for trade negotiations with the EU. First, US trade officials — and Mr Trump — must stop threatening the bloc with illegal car tariffs immediately. Second, the US must lift the illegal steel tariffs it imposed in June of this year. Third, the US must stop preventing the WTO appellate body from filling vacancies immediately and credibly engage in negotiations over WTO reform.


Fourth, before the start of negotiations, the US administration will have to accept the inclusion of additional areas of commercial interest to the EU, such as public procurement, and standard EU free trade provisions on environmental protection and labour standards, gender equality, and anti-corruption.

Fifth, negotiations can only commence after the conclusion of a standard EU scoping exercise. Sixth, and finally, US officials should be under no illusion that any potential EU-US trade agreement will comply with WTO rules requiring such deals to cover substantially all trade.

Having served in the European Parliament for more than 20 years, I have no doubt that our institution will zealously protect the democratic process and make sure any treaty adheres to EU principles and goals. We have already proved our mettle during the debates over the EU’s participation in the Swift banking network and the anticounterfeiting trade agreement.


The rules-based trading system remains the centrepiece of European economic interest. US envoys are welcome to work with us on making it more effective.

But only a transatlantic partnership based on mutual respect can respond to the great challenges of our time. As it stands, the current US rhetoric and disregard for our values and red lines have the potential to poison transatlantic relations for years to come.

The writer is the chairman of the International Trade Committee of the European
Parliament and the standing rapporteur for EU-US trade relations.