Europeans are skeptical of trade truce with Trump
BRUSSELS — European officials are struggling to make sense of what seems a temporary trade war truce between President Trump and the European Union, following the visit of EU leaders to Washington this week.
Trump and Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, announced Wednesday they had agreed to work toward resolving disputes over steel and aluminum tariffs, delay proposed car tariffs and talk about a bilateral trade deal.
‘‘Objectively this a good news, that we avoided so far tariffs on cars,’’ said a senior EU diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
In capitals across Europe, a number of national officials echoed that sentiment, heralding the meeting as having prevented a trade war. German Finance Minister Peter Altmaier, for instance, called it a ‘‘breakthrough.’’ But others were wary, wondering whether it’s realistic to expect Europe to buy more soybeans from the United States, as Juncker signaled, or to become ‘‘a massive buyer’’ of liquefied natural gas from the United States, as Trump declared.
And to some European eyes, the more feasible parts of what Trump and Juncker discussed look a lot like the goals of what was known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, an initiative begun under President Obama.
Wednesday’s joint statement between Juncker and Trump included calls for easing trade barriers in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals, medical products and services — sectors that were also discussed within TTIP. Those negotiations have been mostly dormant since 2016.
With a White House that frequently changes course, and on the spur of a moment, economic analysts hesitated to cast any definitive judgement on the Trump-Juncker detente.
‘‘Is it actual, or is it just perfunctory?’’ said Maria Demertzis, the deputy director of Breugel, a Brussels think tank focusing on economic issues.
And then there are questions about the particulars.
As far as soybean imports, prices from Argentina and Brazil tend to be a good deal lower than prices from the United States, according to an EU official.
US prices have fallen somewhat in recent weeks, since China enacted its own set of soybean tariffs. But soybeans intended for Chinese markets can’t necessarily be redirected to the EU, which has stringent regulations on genetically modified foods.
President Trump heralded the progress at an event in Iowa and Illinois Thursday.
‘‘We just opened up Europe for you farmers. You’re not going to be too angry with Trump, I can tell you,’’ the president said at the workforce development event in the Peosta, Iowa, where he was joined by two Iowa Republicans, Governor Kim Reynolds and Representative Rod Blum.
Trump later trumpeted the renewed success of an Illinois steel mill, pushing back against criticism that his escalating trade disputes are hurting Americans.
The president pointed to the US Steel plant’s reopening as a success story after he slapped tariffs on imported steel and aluminum last spring.
‘‘America never surrenders,’’ Trump said in an address to workers at the company’s steel coil warehouse in Granite City. ‘‘We don’t wave the white flag.’’
For some trade analysts, the concern was less about the particulars of the Trump-Juncker détente than how Europe plans to deal with Trump, who only recently called the EU a ‘‘trade foe.’’
‘‘Let’s go back a step,’’ said Demertzis, the economic analyst. ‘‘What’s the strategy here, to the extent that the EU has a strategy?’’
She noted that the bloc has recently signed major trade deals with other partners, notably Japan. Meanwhile, it’s contesting the Trump administration’s steel and aluminum tariffs — which remain in effect — before the World Trade Organization and it has pledged proportionality in retaliatory measures toward American products.
‘‘If you go and strike a deal with Mr. Trump, you have to think how that fits into the strategy,’’ she said. ‘‘Striking a deal would do damage, in my view, to what you’re trying to do on a broader level.’’
Material from The Associated Press was used in this story.