WASHINGTON — European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker hailed President Donald Trump’s decision on Wednesday not to impose tariffs on European autos and to begin talks with the European Union on reducing industrial tariffs to zero.
“The major progress today is that our American friends agreed not to increase tariffs on cars and other products during the negotiation, which is a major concession by the Americans I have to say,” Juncker told reporters after a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Juncker’s briefing was originally to be on background, meaning he could not be identified by name, but part of the way through the press conference, he agreed to let his quotes be identified.
Although EU officials told reporters earlier this week that the meeting with Trump was not intended to be a negotiating session, that’s exactly what it turned out to be. “It took three hours and a half, or even more with interruptions, with drafting sessions, text comparisons. So it was a traditional negotiation,” Juncker said.
He credited European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström with laying the groundwork over the last two weeks in calls with U.S. officials.
Although the two sides have only agreed to begin talks, Juncker said it was significant that Trump will not proceed with threatened car tariffs as long as the negotiations are making progress.
The United States also agreed for the first time to reassess the tariffs it imposed on imports from the EU of steel and aluminum, Juncker said. That could potentially lead to them being removed as a result of the negotiations.
For now, the EU will keep its retaliatory tariffs on the U.S. in place, which is aimed at a range of products including motorboats, orange juice and bourbon. But the bloc is prepared to remove them once the steel and aluminum tariffs are dropped, he said.
Juncker said it was too early to say whether any deal reached with the U.S. would have to be approved by the European parliament and national legislatures.
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