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US tariffs on autos not mentioned: EU trade chief

January 17, 2020

In Washington to smooth out trade differences with the Trump administration, an EU commissioner said the subject of car tariffs did not come up. German carmakers will be happy to see the issue off the negotiating table.

VW factory
Image: Reuters/F. Bimmer

US threats to impose tariffs on European autos did not come up in trade talks in Washington, European Union Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan said Thursday.

"It was not mentioned, it was hardly mentioned," Hogan told reporters in the US capital. "I think it should be good news for Germany."

The Trump administration has repeatedly threatened to put tariffs on European automobiles imported into the US, citing threats to national security. But a deadline to make a decision passed last November without a comment from the White House after the EU threatened to impose retaliatory tariffs on US imports.

Hogan's remarks come after German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer earlier in the day confirmed a report in The Washington Post on Wednesday that the United States last week tried to strong-arm three EU nations by threatening a 25% tariff on auto imports if they did not take a tougher stance on Iran.

Graphic showing origin of automobiles sold in the USA in 2017

The report, in which one EU official described the Trump administration's tactics as "extortion," came as Germany, France and Britain this week formally initiated a dispute resolution mechanism in response to Iranian breaches of the 2015 international nuclear deal.

The three EU countries are signatories to the agreement, known as the JCPOA, which the United States withdrew from in 2018.

Hogan said he learned of the US threats through the media.

"I certainly haven't been briefed," he said.

REV - The Global Auto and Mobility Show

Airbus, Boeing subsidies 

The top EU trade official is in the US capital on a multi-day trip to meet with senior administration officials and members of Congress.

Hogan also said Thursday that there remained distance between Washington and Brussels over how to resolve a dispute about EU subsidies to aircraft maker Airbus.

The United States last October imposed tariffs worth $7.5 billion  (€6.7 billion) on European exports after the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that the subsidies were illegal.

The WTO has already found that US aircraft maker Boeing received billions of dollars of illegal subsidies in a separate case and is expected to rule within months to allow the EU to impose its own retaliatory tariffs.

Hogan said the EU would have "no alternative" than to slap tariffs on US goods when the WTO announces a decision.

"The EU has shared concrete proposals with the US on dealing with clearly identified aircraft subsidies and on future support to our respective aircraft sectors," Hogan said at an event held at the CSIS think tank, urging the US side to negotiate and end the dispute.

Read moreUS, China and Germany profit most from global free trade, says WTO 

Agriculture trade remains a stumbling block in reaching a larger trade deal, Hogan said, but he noted the EU had increased imports of soybeans, corn and hormone-free beef.  

Overall, he said the two sides have made progress to avoid a trade war.

"Imposing tariffs on each other serves nobody's long-term interest. Tariffs are in reality just another form of taxation on businesses and consumers," he said.

cw/sms (AFP, dpa)

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