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EU's Juncker in last-ditch bid to end Trump trade war
[BRUSSELS] European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker heads to Washington on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort by the EU to cool nerves and find an exit door from an all-out trade war with US President Donald Trump.
Mr Juncker, a grizzled veteran of EU politics, follows a long list of European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who have tried to lure Mr Trump him away from a protectionist onslaught that has spooked financial markets and the world.
The former Luxembourg prime minister is going to Washington without a negotiating mandate, but with the intention of thinking "outside the box" to "find a solution" with Mr Trump, said EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who will join Mr Juncker on the trip.
Mr Juncker leaves for Washington on Tuesday and his meeting with Mr Trump is scheduled on Wednesday, to be followed by a speech on EU-US ties at a think-tank.
"It is an opportunity to dedramatise any potential tensions on trade and to engage into an open, constructive dialogue with our American partners," Mr Juncker's chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a news briefing.
At stake is a White House threat to slap a daunting wave of tariffs on European auto exports to the US, an action that the Europeans say would trigger a global economic earthquake and earn a withering riposte from Brussels.
If confirmed, Mr Trump's auto tariffs would add to the steel and aluminium tariffs imposed in June that seriously damaged transatlantic relations already frayed by Mr Trump's pullout of the Paris Climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal.
In response, the European Union on June 22 imposed a raft of retaliatory tariffs that targeted the most emblematic of American exports, from blue jeans to Harley Davidson motorbikes and whiskey.
Fearing car tariffs, Brussels is already drawing up a list of more US products that could be hit with retaliatory duties if Mr Juncker's trip fails.
"We will continue to respond toe-to-toe to provocations," Mr Juncker warned in a speech on Wednesday.
"All efforts to divide Europeans are in vain," he added.
Mr Juncker's commission handles trade matters for the EU 28 and he goes to the White House with the firm backing of Mrs Merkel, the leader of export powerhouse Germany, a country that Mr Trump has angrily singled out for punishing the US on trade.
Not to be daunted by Trump's protectionism, Juncker last week toured Asia, signing the EU's biggest ever trade deal with Japan while also backing multilateralism alongside the Chinese government during a stop in Beijing.
The EU - the world's biggest single market with 28 countries and 500 million people - has also secured similar trade deals with US neighbours Canada and Mexico.
Also looming over the Juncker visit is last week's decision by the commission to slap US tech giant Google with a record fine over its Android mobile phone operating system.
Mr Trump lashed out at the 4.34 billion euro ($5 billion) penalty and warned: "They truly have taken advantage of the US, but not for long!" Mr Trump said.