WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that the United States will pause its plans to impose new tariffs against the European Union and work to resolve existing differences over trade in an attempt to avoid a full-blown trade war.
The “new phase” in the trade relationship between Washington and Brussels comes after Trump met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who traveled to the White House with his team to attempt to head off potential tariffs on U.S. imports of autos and auto parts.
In a joint statement in the Rose Garden, Trump and Juncker also announced that the two trading partners will work to eliminate tariffs on all non-auto industrial goods, increase cooperation on energy purchases and work together to reform the World Trade Organization.
“This will open markets for farmers and workers, increase investment, and lead to greater prosperity in both the United States and the European Union,” Trump said as Juncker stood beside him. “If we team up, we can make our planet a better, more secure and more prosperous place.”
The announcement marks a détente in the bilateral relationship, which had grown increasingly tense in recent months after Trump slapped tariffs on nearly all U.S. imports of steel and aluminum, including those from the EU. Brussels had responded by imposing retaliatory tariffs on roughly $3.3 billion in U.S. goods, including products like blue jeans, boats and bourbon.
Cecilia Malmström, who traveled with Juncker, likened progress made between the two sides on Wednesday to “turning a page” in the bilateral relationship.
Junckers visit was aimed at cooling the waters. In exchange for commitments from Trump to “reassess” the steel and aluminum tariffs and “hold off on further tariffs,” the EU will boost its purchases of U.S. soybeans and build more terminals to import liquefied natural gas from America, Juncker said.
“When I was invited by the president to the White House I had one intention,” the European leader said Wednesday. “I had the intention to make a deal today. And we made a deal today. This was a good, constructive meeting.”
Speaking later to Brussels Playbook on the phone on the way to the airport after his meeting with Trump, Juncker said the pair had negotiated for three and a half hours. “Its good what weve managed to agree on,” he said. The big win for the EU, Juncker added, is that Trump agreed to not increase tariffs on cars so long as the EU and U.S. are on negotiating terms.
“Talks were alleviated by the fact that we get along well, surprisingly,” Juncker told Brussels Playbook. Trump “appreciates that I challenged him twice at G7 meetings, hard at it but polite in tone. He doesnt like those who beat around the bush.”
European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, who traveled with Juncker to the White House, likened progress made between the two sides on Wednesday to “turning a page” in the bilateral relationship, which had gotten increasingly tense in recent months.
The deal comes after Trump blasted “weak politicians“ who have criticized his tariff-heavy trade policies.
Reaction from other parts of Europe was more muted. Marietje Schaake, a liberal Dutch member of the European Parliament, noted that Junckers failure to secure a commitment from Trump to remove the “unjust” steel and aluminum tariffs should be viewed as a failure.
“EU has put de-escalation and mutual benefit of good trade relation first, always, but todays concession could set dangerous precedent,” she wrote on Twitter.
The written version of the joint statement outlines commitments that are slightly less comprehensive than those the two leaders mentioned in their Rose Garden remarks. There is no specific mention in writing, for example, that no new tariffs will be imposed, though the statement does include a pledge not to “go against the spirit of this agreement, unless either party terminates the negotiations.”
Asked to explain what exactly the two sides agreed on, an EU official said the U.S. would not impose new tariffs against European autos and auto parts. The EU sides understanding is that “car tariffs currently in place will stay as they are,” the official told POLITICO.
The U.S. Commerce Department is currently considering slapping tariffs on foreign autos imported from around the world on the grounds that they are a threat to national security.
The deal comes after Trump on Wednesday morning blasted “weak politicians“ who have criticized his tariff-heavy trade policies.
“When you have people snipping at your heels during a negotiation, it will only take longer to make a deal, and the deal will never be as good as it could have been with unity,” the president posted on Twitter. “Negotiations are going really well, be cool. The end result will be worth it!“
Florian Eder contributed reporting.