EU’s Hogan Returns to U.S. in Bid to Defuse Trade Tensions

(Bloomberg) --

European Union Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan will be in Washington on Thursday for the second time in less than a month as the 27-nation bloc seeks to revive a transatlantic commercial truce.

Hogan will meet U.S. officials including Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer during the visit, a spokesman for the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said Wednesday evening in Brussels.

These meetings are part of the regular contacts being held at technical and political level in the framework of the discussions for a positive bilateral transatlantic trade agenda, the spokesman said. Hogan made his first visit to Washington as EU trade chief in mid-January, when he spent three days there.

The stakes are rising for the world’s two largest trading powers to restart negotiations aimed at avoiding an escalation of tensions that’s led to threats of tariffs and retaliation.

Tariff Boost

The EU aims to renew a July 2018 truce that has been fraying in recent months. Chief among Europe’s worries is a lingering U.S. threat to hit EU cars and auto parts with duties based on national-security grounds.

Another tariff decision might be imminent. The U.S. in December triggered an inquiry to determine whether to increase tariff rates on European goods in retaliation against illegal EU subsidies to Airbus SE. Trade analysts have said those tariffs, which could also be broadened to include more products, may be issued as soon as Feb. 17.

President Donald Trump, with his job-approval rating hovering near record highs, has called the EU worse than China when it comes to doing business with the U.S. and said he wants to pursue an accord with Brussels after he secured a partial pact with China.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Trump said the tariff pressure he put on China worked. One of Trump’s main gauges of unfairness is the bilateral trade balance, and the EU’s goods surplus with the U.S. swelled to an all-time high of $178 billion last year, figures showed Wednesday in Washington.

EU’s Hogan Returns to U.S. in Bid to Defuse Trade Tensions

Hogan’s trip to Washington this week may help pave the way for a visit by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Von der Leyen and Trump agreed at a meeting in Davos, Switzerland, last month to discuss transatlantic commerce in the American capital. No dates have been set for a visit by her.

The commission has signaled that any renewed transatlantic trade pact would include matters related to foods, energy and technology.

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