US ambassador calls on von der Leyen to revive trade talks

Washington is hopeful that European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen can inject new life into deadlocked transatlantic trade talks, U.S. President Donald Trumps man in Brussels said Thursday.

However, the U.S. administration remains ready to impose auto tariffs, or other actions, with “immediate financial consequences” for the EU if there is no progress in negotiations, or if countries like France and Britain progress with digital services tax plans, U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland told POLITICO.

Speaking of von der Leyen, Sondland said: “Im very optimistic about her leadership and about her willingness to engage constructively with the United States.”

He said her planned inauguration in November was “a golden opportunity for the U.S. and the EU to re-engage, where folks do not have to be fixed in old positions and trying to save face, but they can essentially start with a new, clean sheet of paper.”

Sondlands comments come as the Commissions new director general for trade, Sabine Weyand, travels to Washington on Sunday for trade discussions that will take place almost exactly a year after Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker struck a peace deal to avert a transatlantic trade war.

U.S. President Donald Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker deliver a joint statement on trade in the Rose Garden of the White House July 25, 2018 | Win McNamee/Getty Images

That deal, from July 25 last year however, has led to both sides publishing conflicting negotiating directives that have thwarted trade talks from beginning so far. While the U.S. demands the inclusion of agriculture in those talks, the EU directives exclude any farm products. The EUs outgoing trade chief, Cecilia Malmström, reiterated last week that Brussels is not ready to discuss agriculture as part of the negotiations.

Sondland said he is hopeful that von der Leyen would have the “willingness to move the agenda forward in a reasonable period of time,” but he also stressed there must be “some inclusion” of agricultural products.

“It doesnt have to be an enormous amount at the beginning,” he said. “It can ramp up over time. But the door has to be cracked open to agriculture. Because no deal is going to get through Congress without that.”

Less whining, more action

Sondland also warned von der Leyen not to try to delay trade discussions — something he accused the Commissions current leadership of doing.

European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström | Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

The ambassador said he believes “more strongly now than ever” that Trump would be reelected in 2020 and remain in office for another four years. “Thats a long time in which to be at an impasse [on trade talks], particularly when the U.S. will not tolerate an impasse indefinitely,” he said.

He cautioned that the U.S. administration has “a whole bunch of different tools,” including car tariffs, at its disposal “to encourage seriousness” in trade discussions and to “protect and defend our economic security.”

Trump declared in May that imports of autos and certain auto parts from the EU and Japan “threaten to impair the national security of the United States,” and instructed his Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to address this threat in trade talks with those countries during the following six months.

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