Phil Hogan arrives in Washington for crunch EU-US trade talks

Europe’s top trade official faces tough discussions during trip amid ongoing tensions

EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan has arrived in Washington for his first visit to the US capital as Europe's top trade official, amid ongoing tensions between the EU and US over trade policy.

In a show of unity on the first day of his visit, Mr Hogan met on Tuesday with US trade representative Robert Lighthizer and Japan's economy minister Hiroshi Kajiyama, with the three proposing new rules to curb market distortions from subsidies – a measure evidently aimed at China.

The proposal will now be brought to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), where the US, Japan and the EU are hoping to secure support for the measure from other members of the 164-member body.

The announcement comes a day before US president Donald Trump is expected to sign the first phase of a US-China trade agreement which will see China committing to buying more US agricultural products.


Mr Hogan said the joint statement by the representatives on Tuesday was a “symbol of a constructive strategic collaboration between three major players in global trade”.

But tough discussions are expected this week between Mr Hogan and the US’s top trade representatives, including Mr Lighthizer, on transatlantic trade issues.

The EU's trade surplus in goods with the US has caught the eye of Mr Trump, who imposed steel and aluminium sanctions on the EU in 2018. However, he has not yet followed through with threats to sanction EU car manufacturers, a move that would adversely impact Germany in particular.

Aircraft dispute

Discussions are also expected to take place in relation to the ongoing Boeing-Airbus dispute. Such talks follow the decision by the Trump administration late last year to impose punishing tariffs on EU exports after a WTO ruling which found that the EU and European countries had given Airbus illegal subsidies.

Last month Washington warned that it could impose further sanctions, which could hit Irish products such as whiskey which were exempt from the original tariffs. Irish dairy exports like cheese and butter have already been hit by the tariffs.

The EU is awaiting a parallel ruling from the WTO in the first part of this year on the legality of subsidies provided by the US to aircraft manufacturer Boeing. A ruling against the US would make it highly likely that the EU would impose its own tariffs, prompting expectations that Washington and Brussels could work out a compromise position.

Also likely to be on Mr Hogan's agenda is trade tensions between the US and France.

France is locked in a bitter trade dispute with Washington after the US threatened to impose 100 per cent duties on up to $2.4 billion of French products such as champagne and handbags in retaliation for the country's new digital tax, which targets US tech companies like Google and Amazon. The Trump administration has also warned other countries, such as Spain and the Czech Republic, which are considering similar sanctions.

Mr Hogan, who assumed the post of trade commissioner on December 1st, criticised Mr Trump as “reckless” last year, adding that the US president needed to see the “error of his ways”.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent