Europe eyes ‘new basis’ for trade ties with US

German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier speaks during a session at the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) on Oct 30, 2020 in Berlin. (ODD ANDERSEN / AFP)

BRUSSELS – European trade ministers will explore on Thursday a post-Trump re-set of transatlantic trade ties in virtual talks with new US Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

The encounter comes days after a partial truce was announced in a three-year steel dispute with the United States, with the European Union declaring on Monday that it would not, for now, impose retaliatory tariffs on more US products.

EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis said it was important for the United States to remove its tariffs on EU steel and aluminium imports by the end of the year

"We have the opportunity to create a new basis for global trade politics with the new US administration," German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said ahead of the talks.

EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis said it was important for the United States to remove its tariffs on EU steel and aluminium imports by the end of the year.

While US President Joe Biden has made clear his focus remains on protecting American jobs, European officials hope his arrival will make trade ties with the United States more predictable than during the volatile Donald Trump presidency.

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A sign of that possible entente came this week as the Biden administration waived sanctions on the company behind the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project backed by Berlin.

Yet the US president is under heavy domestic pressure not to yield too much: steel industry groups and the steelworkers union this week urged him to maintain tariffs on steel imports imposed by Trump, saying they had proved a success.

"Eliminating the steel tariffs now would undermine the viability of our industry," wrote the heads of the American Iron and Steel Institute, the Steel Manufacturers Association, the United Steelworkers and other groups.

For now the United States will maintain its tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminium. Those duties also apply to imports from India, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, Japan and South Korea among others metals-exporting countries.

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