U.S. and EU settle tariff rift that started with steel and escalated to Kentucky bourbon and motorcycles
The U.S. and European Union have reached an agreement to settle their diplomatic rift over Trump-era steel and aluminum tariffs, the White House announced Saturday, as President Joe Biden is in Rome attending the Group of 20 summit.
The Trump administration had placed taxes on EU steel and aluminum in 2018 on the claim that the foreign products produced by American allies were a threat to U.S. national security. Europeans and other allies were outraged by Trump’s use of Article 232 to justify the tariffs, leading many to impose countertariffs on U.S.-made motorcycles, bourbon, peanut butter and jeans, among other items.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced the agreement Saturday. They said that the Article 232 tariffs won’t be removed entirely but that some quantity of European steel and aluminum will be allowed to enter the U.S. without tariffs under the deal.
“We were able to reach an agreement whereby the EU will drop their retaliatory tariffs (on American goods),” Raimondo said. The agreement would ensure “that all steel entering the U.S. via Europe is produced entirely in Europe,” Raimondo added.
The easing of the tariffs is a key step in unwinding one of Trump’s legacies as Biden has tried to reset the U.S. relationship with Europe.
This back-and-forth hurt European producers and raised steel costs for American companies. The tariffs also did not achieve Trump’s stated goals of creating jobs at steel mills. The Bureau of Labor Statistics show that jobs in the manufacturing of primary metals did rise slightly, to as much as 389,100 in 2019. But mills shed workers during the pandemic, and employment in the sector is roughly half of what it was in 1990.
The European Union took steps in May to improve relations. On some retaliatory tariffs, the EU temporarily suspended planned increases. This meant that American whiskey faced a 25% tax in Europe, instead of a planned 50% tax. The two sides faced a December deadline to avoid the higher tax rate.
The summit’s host, Italian Premier Mario Draghi, in a statement Saturday night expressed “great satisfaction “ for the tariff accord. The decision “confirms the further reinforcement underway of the already close Transatlantic relations and the progressive overcoming of the protectionism of the last years,” he said.
The announcement also was welcomed by Chris Swonger, president and CEO of Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, after what he called “three very difficult years of sagging American whiskey exports.”
“Lifting this tariff burden on American whiskeys not only boosts U.S. distillers and farmers, it also supports the recovery of EU restaurants, bars and distilleries hit hard by the pandemic,” Swonger said.
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