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US, EU pledge to find 'acceptable outcomes' on metal tariffs
[WASHINGTON] The United States and the European Union are launching a fresh round of talks in order to reach a "mutually acceptable" solution on trade disputes including steel and aluminium tariffs, officials said Wednesday.
The announcement from Washington and Brussels held out the possibility of detente just two days before the punishing new tariffs unveiled this month by President Donald Trump are due to take effect.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and visiting EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem made the announcement as world governments press Washington to exclude them from the metals tariffs.
The White House already said Canada and Mexico, which are major producers of the metals, will temporarily be exempt from the tariffs during talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
But US officials have suggested other countries could get relief as well.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump is expected to raise the temperature this week yet again by unveiling a new package of retaliatory trade measures on tens of billions of dollars in Chinese imports to punish Beijing for the alleged "theft" of American intellectual property.
Mr Ross and Mr Malmstroem said they agreed to immediately begin "a process of discussion" on the tariffs and other matters "with a view to identifying mutually acceptable outcomes as rapidly as possible."
Mr Malmstroem had called for Europe to be exempted as a whole. And speaking to reporters in Brussels on Wednesday, European Council President Donald Tusk said he harbored "cautious optimism" on the prospects for a resolution.
"But it is still a question mark," Mr Tusk said. "Everything will be clear tomorrow." In congressional testimony earlier Wednesday, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Washington was also discussing tariff exemptions with Australia, Argentina and Brazil.
The talks should be finished by the end of April, Mr Lighthizer said, and while the talks are ongoing some countries may be spared paying the tariffs.
"Now whether this happens is up to the president," Mr Lighthizer said.
For those countries "that think they should be excluded" but will face tariffs in the end "for those people there'll be more of a disruption."
The Trump administration's aggressive moves on trade have stoked alarm among lawmakers in the president's own party, as well as industry groups, who say the measure exposes the United States to higher prices and retaliation.
Mr Trump's trade confrontation with the world's major economies has touched off a flurry of lobbying activity as competing domestic industry groups and foreign exporting countries jockey for influence among lawmakers and administration officials.
Last week, in just one example, the government of Bahrain - a major aluminum exporter - hired a team of lobbyists led by former US Commerce Department general counsel Homer Moyer, for 22 days, paying a US$110,000 fee, Justice Department records show.
Lighthizer, who has been working to develop the new China tariffs package over intellectual property at Trump's behest, also said the coming US retaliation could involve tariffs and investment measures.
Any US steps should be designed to "put maximum pressure on China and minimum pressure on US consumers," he said in his testimony, though he offered no details.
US officials accuse China of forcing American companies to hand over technology and intellectual property as a condition for doing business in that country.
In addition, they say Beijing restricts American companies' ability to license their intellectual property in China, uses state funds to buy US companies with valuable patents and technology, and steal US technology through hacking and industrial espionage.
Beijing has repeatedly warned it will not stand idly by while Washington imposes punitive restrictions on its exports and cautioned that trade wars have no winners.