A top German minister urged EU states to agree a common stance to negotiate with the United States on trade, acknowledging differences with France, after President Donald Trump extended a temporary reprieve for the EU on steel and aluminium tariffs.
Although the EU has called for a permanent exemption from the tariffs, arguing the one-month extension is causing uncertainty among businesses, there are differences in emphasis among member states.
German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told Germany’s ARD television Wednesday the EU faced a difficult situation which required a “fair solution in negotiations between the Europeans and Americans”.
Asked if it would be easier to find a common stance with France or formulate an offer to the United States, he said, “Both are equally difficult.”
“The EU must agree on what it is willing to talk about,” Altmaier said, adding it was another question whether negotiations with the United States would follow.
The priority for export-oriented Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, is to get a broad agreement to lower tariffs across a broad spectrum of products, especially in manufacturing.
The United States is Germany’s most important export destination after the rest of the EU, and exports account for roughly 40 percent of German economic output.
By contrast, France has said it agrees that there is over-capacity in steel and aluminium and that it is ready to work with the United States and other partners to find a solution to those issues.
It insists, however, that it can only discuss this if it has assurances that the EU will be permanently excluded from unilateral tariff increases.
A German government spokesman reiterated that Berlin expects the EU to secure a permanent exemption from U.S. tariffs and the priority was to keep talking. “Both the United States and Europe would benefit from deeper trade ties,” spokesman Steffen Seibert said. “Our expectation… is that there will be a permanent exemption for the European Union.”