The US has agreed to work towards lowering trade barriers with the European Union, Donald Trump said on Wednesday after a meeting with European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, report agencies.
The two agreed to launch a ‘new phase’ in relations and work towards zero tariffs, the US president said.
They also agreed to increase trade in services and agriculture, including greater US soy bean exports to the EU.
The agreements come amid heightened tensions between the US and EU.
The two leaders defused what had threatened to become a trade war between the two blocs, fuelled by tariffs set by Mr Trump on European steel and aluminium exports, and threats to expand the tariffs to cars.
The relationship between the US and Europe had been further frayed by Mr Trump’s apparent fondness for the Russian President Vladimir Putin and attacks on Nato and the EU.
Speaking from the Rose Garden at the White House, Mr Trump declared a ‘new phase in the relationship’ between the two trading blocs, calling it a “very big day for free and fair trade”.
“We are starting the negotiation right now but we know very much where it’s going,” he said. Mr Juncker thanked the president and hailed a “good, constructive meeting”.
The EU would increase purchases of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the United States, President Trump said, making them a ‘massive buyer’.
He added that there would be an increase on trade in services and agriculture. “The EU is going to start to buy a lot more soy beans – they are a tremendous market – buy a lot of soy beans from our farmers, primarily in the Midwest,” Mr Trump said.
The pair also agreed to hold off imposing any further tariffs while negotiations take place – something Mr Juncker called a ‘major concession’ by the president – and to work towards reform of the World Trade Organization.
Mr Juncker said striking a deal on zero tariffs on industrial goods was his ‘main intention’. “I had one intention today, to make a deal, and we made a deal. We have a number of areas on which to work together,” he said.
No announcement was made on auto tariffs, and it was not clear whether any progress had been made on resolving the issue. Mr Trump had threatened to impose 25% tariffs on European auto imports.
Mr Juncker said he and the president had agreed to reassess national security barriers in ‘due time’.
Governments and officials in Europe were quick to praise Mr Trump’s agreement with Mr Juncker.
On Twitter, EU trade official Cecilia Malmstrom said the two were ‘turning a page’ on trade, while German economy minister Peter Altmaier hailed it as a ‘breakthrough’.
However, others tempered the enthusiasm.
Speaking to The Guardian news website, Bart Oosterveld at the Atlantic Council thinktank called the agreement the “resumption of some basic dialogue”, and said agreements on LNG and soybeans were not hugely significant.
“The avoidance of disaster is not a success,” he said.
Mr Trump has imposed a 25% tariff on steel and 10% tariff on aluminium products from the EU, Canada and Mexico on national security grounds – something the EU is challenging at the World Trade Organization.
The US president has railed against what he believes are unfair trade practices by US allies, and previously called the EU a foe on trade.
The EU has in turn retaliated with tariffs on iconic US goods ranging from Harley Davidson motorbikes to bourbon.
Harley Davidson and US car manufacturers have recently warned of the financial cost these tariffs are causing to their businesses.