US and EU end Trump-era steel trade war

The United States and the European Union have announced a deal to ease tariffs on aluminium and steel, in a positive sign for Irish industries hit by the tit-for-tat trade tolls that had soured transatlantic relations since the Trump administration.

Under the deal reached at the sidelines of the G20 in Rome, EU-made metal products will be allowed tariff-free into the US at the levels seen prior to the trade dispute.

The EU will suspend its retaliatory measures, and both sides will pause their legal fight at the World Trade Organisation, with the aim of finding a permanent solution within two years that will reduce overproduction and make the industry greener.

The EU’s trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis said 2021 had become a “landmark year for transatlantic relations” and that the union had “successfully pressed the reset button with the Biden administration”.

Trade irritant

“Today’s US decision on steel and aluminium tariffs will alleviate an important trade irritant that has hampered EU-US trade relations,” Mr Dombrovskis said.

“This means that EU exporters of steel and aluminium can once again ship their products without undue barriers to US customers, and transatlantic trade can return to pre-tariff levels.”

The EU and US previously agreed to suspend tariffs in an Airbus-Boeing dispute over aircraft subsidies that had rumbled on for 17 years, and had hit Irish exports as a retaliatory 25 per cent tariff was slapped on some liqueurs, whiskey, butter and cheese.

An EU official said negotiations were continuing to permanently resolve both disputes, and that he was optimistic the tariffs would not return as long as US president Joe Biden is in office.

“The détente is real and I don’t think we will go back to the situation under the current administration,” the official said. “The tariff issue is more or less gone away . . . We hope it will not come back because, for both, we continue to negotiate permanent solutions.”

As part of the deal, Brussels is expected to forgo its tariffs on US goods like Harley-Davidson motorcycles, bourbon whiskey and motor boats, which had been set to double within weeks.

The US spirits industry warmly welcomed the news, with Distilled Spirits Council president Chris Swonger saying he was “ready to ramp up our American whiskey promotions in the EU”.

Negotiations

The deal to drop measures will remain in place for two years, while the sides negotiate a permanent resolution. Officials say their aim is to promote greener manufacturing while tackling the global overproduction of steel which, they say, saw China swamp EU and US markets with cheap subsidised metals to the detriment of local industries.

“The agreement ultimately to negotiate a carbon-based arrangement on steel and aluminium trade addresses both Chinese overproduction and carbon intensity in the steel and aluminium sector,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters.

It follows months of negotiations to resolve the dispute, which began in 2018 when then president Donald Trump placed tariffs on steel and aluminium using a little-used national security law.

British steel exports remain subject to the US tariffs because it is not covered by the deal as it is no longer an EU member. The US chamber of commerce has called for the duties to be dropped for all “close allies”.