US, EU agree to more trade discussions

OVAL OFFICE MEETING — President Donald Trump meets with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, in Washington. -- Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump and European leaders pulled back from the brink of a trade war over autos Wednesday and agreed to open talks to tear down trade barriers between the United States and the European Union.

But the agreement was vague, the coming negotiations with Europe are sure to be contentious and the United States remains embroiled in major trade disputes with China and other trading partners.

In a hastily called Rose Garden appearance with Trump, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the U.S. and the EU have agreed to hold off on new tariffs, suggesting that the United States will suspend plans to start taxing European auto imports — a move that would have marked a major escalation in trade tensions between the allies.

Trump also said the EU had agreed to buy “a lot of soybeans” and increase its imports of liquefied natural gas from the U.S. And the two agreed to resolve a dispute over U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum.

“It’s encouraging that they’re talking about freer trade rather than trade barriers and an escalating tariff war,” said Rufus Yerxa, president of the National Foreign Trade Council and a former U.S. trade official. But he said reaching a detailed trade agreement with the EU would likely prove difficult.

The tone was friendlier than it has been. During a recent European trip, Trump referred to the EU as a “foe, what they do to us in trade.” Juncker, after Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, said in March that “this is basically a stupid process, the fact that we have to do this. But we have to do it. We can also do stupid.”

On Wednesday, Trump and Juncker said they have agreed to work toward “zero tariffs” and “zero subsidies” on non-automotive goods.

Trump told reporters it was a “very big day for free and fair trade” and later tweeted a photo of himself and Juncker in an embrace, with Juncker kissing his cheek.

“Obviously the European Union, as represented by @JunckerEU and the United States, as represented by yours truly, love each other!” he wrote.

The president campaigned on a vow to get tough on trading partners he accuses of taking advantage of bad trade deals to run up huge trade surpluses with the U.S.

He has slapped taxes on imported steel and aluminum, saying they pose a threat to U.S. national security. The U.S. and EU are now working to resolve their differences over steel and aluminum — but the tariffs are still in place. And they would continue to hit U.S. trading partners like Canada, Mexico and Japan even if the U.S. and the EU cut a deal.

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