European Union leaders had their agenda derailed at last night’s Brussels summit — forced to focus on two old Cold War rivals, with attention split between Russia and Trump’s trade war.
Consensus was reached on an EU-wide response to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, with the ambassador from Moscow recalled for a month of consultations.
Less clear was how EU members should respond to new US tariffs on steel and aluminium, meant to come into effect today, because no one is yet sure if or how they apply to the European Union. These decisions will now be taken today.
It seems that the EU has won a temporary reprieve from the punitive tariffs, after US president Donald Trump announced that he had decided to “pause the imposition” on certain countries to allow negotiations to continue.
However, Trump was not forthcoming with detailed information, beyond indicating that the exemptions were conditional on countries negotiating “reciprocal” trade relations with the US.
Speaking in Washington, Trump said:
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We are just starting a negotiation with the European Union, because they have really shut out country to a large extent. They have barriers that they can trade with us but we can’t trade with them, they have very strong barriers, very high tariffs. We don’t. It’s just not fair.”
Not sure about what any of this actually means in practice, EU leaders chose to roll over discussions on US trade into today.
British prime minister Theresa May is now staying an extra day in Brussels so that the EU’s decision on trade is taken collectively.
“We can’t say definitively this morning how the decision has really gone,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters early this morning.
We believe that these tariffs are not justified and we want to continue to seek discussions. But we have to wait overnight to see how the final decisions of the US administration look.
Other countries included in Trump’s last minute exemptions are Canada and Mexico. One country definitely not included is China, and the prospect of a trade war between the two nations sent markets tumbling this morning.