EU Trade Chief Plans January U.S. Trip in Bid to Ease Tensions

(Bloomberg) -- The European Union’s new trade chief plans to visit Washington on Jan. 14-16 a bid to repair transatlantic relations frayed by U.S. measures against imports from the bloc and its attacks on the global commercial order.

Phil Hogan will meet U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to discuss disputes including an American threat to hit $2.4 billion of French goods with tariffs in retaliation over a digital-services tax in France.

The U.S. alleged on Dec. 2 -- the day after Hogan became EU trade commissioner -- that France’s tax discriminates against U.S. technology companies such as Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL), Apple Inc (NASDAQ:AAPL). and Amazon.com Inc (NASDAQ:AMZN).

Such levies would mark the first time President Donald Trump’s administration deploys against Europe a policy tool -- Section 301 of a 1974 American law -- reserved so far for the U.S. trade war against China. The prospect has alarmed the EU, which is already scrambling to expand its policy arsenal in response to a separate U.S. threat to the rules-based international system.

“The only acceptable route to address trade disputes is through the World Trade Organization adjudication process,” Hogan told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France on Dec. 19. “The European Union will act -- and react -- as one against any unilateral measures outside the multilateral trading system.”

Ties between the EU and U.S., the world’s biggest economic partners, have deteriorated on numerous fronts since Trump took office in January 2017 with an “America First” agenda that has shaken the global order put in place with American support after the Second World War.

Hogan’s visit would overlap with another important date on the U.S. administration’s calendar. Trump has said he plans to sign phase one of a trade deal with China on Jan. 15 in the U.S. capital.

While the transatlantic tensions extend to decisions by Trump to abandon major international agreements to fight climate change, control nuclear arms in Europe and curb Iran’s atomic-energy program, the EU’s sore points with the U.S. over trade go well beyond possible American retaliatory tariffs tied to France’s digital tax. These disagreements include:

A deadlock on the WTO’s appellate body caused by a U.S. refusal to consider new panelistsU.S. tariffs on a range of European products following a WTO ruling about illegal aid to AirbusU.S. duties on European steel and aluminum based on controversial national-security groundsA lingering U.S. threat to hit European automotive goods with levies based on security groundsAmerican demands to include agriculture in the scope of planned talks on cuts in duties on industrial goods