European businesses have been spared US tariffs on steel and aluminium due to come into force tomorrow.
US President Donald Trump said “real friends” could apply for an exemption when he announced his intention to put tariffs 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium two weeks ago.
And US trade envoy Robert Lighthizer confirmed today that the European Union was one of seven areas where the tariffs will not take effect immediately.
Speaking to the US Senate’s finance committee, he said: “What he [Donald Trump] has decided to do is to pause the imposition of the tariffs with respect of those countries.”
The other countries to benefit are Mexico, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Brasil and South Korea.
Lighthizer said negotiations would continue with these countries over a permanent exemption based on criteria which has not yet been finalised.
The news came after two days of intensive talks between the US and EU.
EU Commissioner for trade Cecilia Malmstrom met yesterday with Lighthizer and US commerce Wilbur Ross in Washington to try and secure an exemption.
Back in Brussels today, she told the European Parliament’s trade committee that she was optimistic of securing an agreement.
“It is the president who decides this,” she told MEPs. “But we expect that Secretary Ross will recommend that the EU is excluded as a whole.”
European heads of state will still discuss the issue at today’s European Council meeting in Brussels.
European Parliament president Atonio Tajani said the news was a “in the right direction”.
“The US and Europe are two sides of the same coin and I don’t think we should get involved in a trade war,” he told a news conference.
“We are not a threat to American steel. The problem is Chinese overcapacity.”
But he and other EU leaders are keen to receive confirmation from President Trump himself.
In Britain, former shadow chancellor and Labour MP Chris Leslie said the episode had been a “brutal lesson in the realpolitik of international trade” for the Government.
“Our Brexit-supporting International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, tried to get an exemption from the tariffs for the UK and achieved the sum total of nothing,” he said.
“But by negotiating through the EU as a bloc, we’ve secured a temporary exemption, at least.”