U.S., EU must end trade conflict, Brussels says in Biden wish-list

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borell speaks during a news conference in Brussels

By Robin Emmott and Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union and the United States should resolve their trade disputes after U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January in a “new transatlantic agenda”, the EU executive said on Wednesday, laying out its wish-list for better ties.

After four years of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda during which Washington imposed tariffs on Brussels on national security grounds, the EU is now looking for close cooperation with Biden on almost all issues.

The United States and the EU “must work closely together on solving bilateral trade irritants”, the European Commission said in a proposal to EU governments, noting that EU-U.S. commerce accounts for a third of world trade.

However, the 12-page document presented by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell made no mention of how to progress, other than appealing to “shared values of human dignity, individual rights and democratic principles.”

“We would prefer to have a friendly agreement among us and not to have to go to the World Trade Organization, which is the way you go when you don’t agree,” Borrell told a news conference.

Biden’s team declined to comment on the EU initiative, saying it respected the principle that there is one president at a time. However, a spokesman noted that in calls with European leaders last month, Biden expressed a desire to revitalize the transatlantic relationship, including through the auspices of the EU and NATO.

The European Union is awaiting a ruling from the WTO on its challenge to U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminium. Borrell said the EU would prefer to talk and not to wait for WTO settlements.

Like NATO, the EU hopes to hold a summit in 2021 with Biden. EU leaders will discuss their approach at a meeting on Dec. 10.

Both the EU and the United States have imposed tariffs in a dispute over aircraft subsidies. Washington has threatened further duties over EU plans to tax digital services companies.

The two sides also have differing views on the value of the WTO and its system of settling disputes, which Washington has paralysed by blocking the appointment of judges.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in September that “major powers are either pulling out of institutions or taking them hostage for their own interests,” in thinly veiled criticism of the United States.

In its proposal, the EU said a first step would be for the EU and the United States to finalise the appointment of a new WTO director-general and “explore how to restore the essential dispute settlement function by reforming the Appellate Body.”

The Commission said the EU and the US should also open a “transatlantic dialogue” on the power of large technology companies, find fair ways to tax them and address “market distortions”.

Other areas of work would focus on fifth-generation mobile networks, artificial intelligence, data flows and cooperation on regulation and standards.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott and Philip Blenkinsop; additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Elaine Hardcastle)