Trump greets EU chief, says US seeks 'level playing field' on trade

President Donald Trump welcomed European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to the White House on Wednesday for what are likely to be tense discussions over trade and tariffs, with Trump saying the U.S. is seeking a “level playing field” on trade with the European Union.

“For years, the U.S. has been losing hundreds of billions of dollars in trade with the European Union, and we just want it to be a level playing field for our farmers, for our manufacturers, for everybody and we also want a big beneficiary, frankly, to be the European Union and we think it can be good for everybody and that’s why we are here to discuss,” he said, sat alongside Juncker in the White House.

Juncker’s visit comes amid an escalating trade war between the U.S. and the E.U. in the wake of Trump’s decision to slap tariffs on imports of aluminum and steel last month. The E.U. subsequently retaliated with tariffs on a number of U.S. goods.

On Wednesday, the soft-spoken Juncker made conciliatory comments, saying that the U.S. and the E.U. are “close partners, allies not enemies” and noting that the U.S. and E.U. represent half of the world’s trade.

“I think we have to talk each to another and not at another and that’s what we do today,” he said, before saying he hopes they could focus on reducing, not increasing, tariffs.

Trump agreed: “I think if we could have no tariffs and no barriers and no subsidies, then the U.S. would be very pleased.” He added that trade has to be “reciprocal in nature at a minimum.”

Trump had offered a similar sentiment Tuesday evening, when he suggested on Twitter the E.U. and U.S. drop all tariffs, barriers and subsidies — although he predicted that the bloc would not be ready for such a proposal.

The meeting comes at a critical time for the trade relationship between the E.U. and the U.S. After the 10 percent tariff on aluminum and 25 percent on steel, The Washington Post reported that Trump is considering slapping a 25 percent tariff on automobiles, an idea that has drawn fierce criticism from E.U. officials — from where many U.S. car imports originate.

In an interview with CBS News this month, Trump described the E.U. as a “foe.”

“I think the European Union as a foe what they do to us in trade,” he said. “You wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe.”

Reuters reported Wednesday that E.U. trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said her office is drawing up a $20 billion list of U.S. goods to hit with retaliatory tariffs should the administration implement that threat.

“We hope that it doesn’t come to that and that we can find a solution. If not, the EU Commission is preparing a rather long list of many American goods,” she told Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

A senior European official told Fox News ahead of the meeting between Juncker and Trump that the aim of the meeting was to build on a conversation the two had at a G7 summit in Canada last month and to work out what exactly the U.S. wants.

“The aim is to figure out what the ask is, we don’t yet have a clear picture of what the administration wants,” the official said.

Trump is facing calls from his own party to back down on the tariffs, particularly after the administration announced Tuesday that it will grant up to $12 billion in aid to farmers hurt by retaliatory tariffs. But Trump tweeted Wednesday urged concerned parties to “be cool.”

“The end result will be worth it!” he added.

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