The US-EU trade deal that wasn’t
“I had the intention to make a deal today, and we made a deal today,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, as he stood alongside President Donald Trump at a White House Rose Garden press conference last week.
It was very generous of the EC president to give something for Trump to crow about. But the European Union and the United States made a trade deal last week just like the US and North Korea made a nuclear deal last month.
What Trump and Juncker sealed with a kiss was a moratorium on the auto import tariffs that Trump was threatening. That represented a walk-back by Trump of his announced trade policy and a win for Juncker who successfully protected European automakers from US tariffs, at least for now.
In reality, the Trump-Juncker “deal” represented the beginning of a long negotiating process that may result in a real agreement at some point.
But wait a minute…weren’t the US and the EU in trade negotiations before? Yes, they were. It was called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Negotiations on that deal started in 2013 under President Barack Obama. Those talks stalled in 2016, as several European leaders faced elections the following year and was again put on the back burner once Trump was elected.
Interestingly, unlike the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that Trump ditched early in his presidency, one didn’t hear the president trash TTIP in the same way, whether on the campaign trail or as president. As recently as last December, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross indicated that the Trump administration did not intend to consign TTIP to the trash bin as it had TPP.
“When we withdrew from TPP we deliberately did not withdraw from TTIP,” Ross said, to an audience at the Atlantic Council in Washington, adding that “we are open for discussion.”
So there you have it. President Donald Trump, if he continues negotiations with the EU and doesn’t change his mind, is reviving the policy of his much-reviled (by Trump) predecessor.
One potential obstacle to a US-EU deal: it’s hard to see how one will be concluded before the terms of the United Kingdom’s commercial relationship with the EU are clear—and those talks are in disarray.
Oh, and one other thing. Trump has expressed enthusiasm for a bilateral agreements with individual countries and not multilateral agreements encompassing several countries. He once had to be schooled by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who told Trump that Germany would not enter trade negotiations with the United States alone, but only as part of the EU.
Just to make it clear, Mr. President: a trade deal with the European Union would be multilateral.