It’s unclear as I write this if there’s an actual deal or just a deal to make a deal, i.e. to keep negotiating on trade. Initially it sounded like the former: The headline at CNBC at around 4:30 ET was “Trump Secures Concessions From Europeans To Avoid Trade War: DJ, Citing EU Official.”
But as I write this at 5:15, the same CNBC story quotes a European spokesman as saying there are no concessions — yet.
[European Commission President Jean-Claude] Juncker said the two leaders agreed that as long as negotiations were ongoing, “we’ll hold off further tariffs and reassess existing tariffs on steel and aluminum” put in place by the Trump administration. “This was a good, constructive meeting,” he added…
European Commission spokesperson Kinga Malinowska said that Juncker had not yet made any concessions.
“All I can say is that the talks are ongoing,” Malinowska said in a statement. “President Juncker is working to avert new tariffs. No concessions made.”
Hmmm. Read the joint U.S.-EU statement. It sounds at least like the EU is moving towards new purchases of liquefied natural gas, and Trump sounds bullish in the clip below about soybean exports. What the Europeans are really after, though, is deescalation before Trump takes the fateful step of imposing 25 percent tariffs on auto imports. Today’s agreement specifically deals only with “non-auto industrial goods” but Juncker and his team have been hammering the point that they hope/expect that no further tariffs will be imposed by either side so long as negotiations are ongoing. In other words, fearful that Trump was about to turn the trade war nuclear with auto tariffs (against the advice of his own staff, per WaPo), it sounds like Juncker did some eleventh-hour diplomacy to hold him off. Whether any actual concessions have been made or will be made, a freeze on the spiral of tariffs on both sides is good news.
This bit from the joint statement is good news too:
Fourthly, we agreed today to join forces to protect American and European companies better from unfair global trade practices. We will therefore work closely together with like-minded partners to reform the WTO and to address unfair trading practices, including intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, industrial subsidies, distortions created by state owned enterprises, and overcapacity.
That’s aimed directly at China. The EU is trying to nudge Trump here, quite rightly, to resolve his differences with Europe on trade so that the two sides can join forces against a more menacing adversary. If you want to scare Beijing into thinking twice about stealing IP, you’ll get further faster with a joint U.S.-EU effort than by going it alone. As Josh Barro said:
One of the most ridiculous things about Trump's trade strategy has been his idea that he can go up against everyone at once. Finding a way to save face while easing off on Europe would be smart strategy, which is why I didn't expect it (and it could still change).
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) July 25, 2018
The Europeans are going to try to channel his appetite for trade war at China, which might actually be productive in certain ways, unlike the squabbles with American allies. Exit question for trade experts: Is this actually just a step towards reviving TTIP? Trump has suggested before that he’d be open to it.
President Trump says that he and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker agree to work toward “zero tariffs" and barriers between products, reducing tensions for now in a brewing trade war https://t.co/Fl4GHURFQY pic.twitter.com/M8AoEiV7cE
— The Lead CNN (@TheLeadCNN) July 25, 2018