WASHINGTON - European diplomats are sounding an upbeat note about coming trade talks with the United States, seemingly unfazed by President Donald Trump’s tough talk and tariff threats aimed at securing new concessions from the European Union.
“When we fight, we make headlines,” said Stavros Lambrinidis, head of the EU delegation in the United States, at a reception at his Washington residence last week. "But when we work together, we make history.”
Trump set an ominous tone for the negotiations, which the Americans hope to conclude this year, during his Jan. 21 appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Noting a hard-won trade deal that settled only some of his country’s trade issues with Beijing, Trump suggested it will be even “more difficult to do business [with the EU] than China.”
In his public remarks on the issue, Trump has focused on traditional areas of trade, including agriculture and automobiles, with repeated threats to boost tariffs on European vehicles.
But the Europeans appear to likely to try to convince the Americans that the key to progress for the two traditional allies lies in closer cooperation in areas of high tech and cybersecurity.
At his reception, Lambrinidis said there is “no question” the development of Artificial Intelligence will change the world as we know it. But he said the Western democracies should work together to develop the technology in ways that ensure it cannot be used for authoritarian purposes, as China is doing to control the Muslim Uighurs in its Xinjiang province."
Will Americans and Europeans get together and work on that, or will we miss the opportunity?” he asked.
Guarding new frontiers
Phil Hogan, the EU’s newly-minted trade commissioner, sounded a similar note in remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington earlier this month.
Calling the 2020s “a pivotal moment in time,” Hogan said the West faces “profound challenges, many of which are totally new,” and which could “shape, divide and diminish us” if the U.S. and the EU fail to address those challenges together.
Trade politics has ceased to be “exclusively about trade,” Hogan said, arguing it has become “a proxy for security, technology, geopolitics and more.”
“In particular,” he said, “trade has become a tool in the global struggle for technological supremacy.”
Lambrinidis reminded his audience that the EU remains the largest source of foreign investment to the United States and that American companies place roughly 60% of their own foreign investment in Europe, reflecting their confidence in the EU’s open, free markets.
The European Green Deal
Addressing another potential sore point in U.S.-EU relations, Lambrinidis defended Europe’s efforts to deal with climate change, and in particular the so-called European Green Deal, an ambitious program aimed at making the continent carbon-neutral by 2050.
Trump was largely dismissive of such efforts at Davos, saying, “We must reject the perennial prophets of doom … [who] always demand the same thing — absolute power to dominate, transform and control every aspect of our lives.”
But Lambrinidis cited the example of a plastic spoon, which he said takes five seconds to make and is used on average for five minutes, but takes five centuries to decompose. “How can you say we’re crazy, that this doesn’t matter?” he asked.
The EU’s green agenda “will – with certainty – pose an enormous challenge” to the global trading system, said Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a native of Denmark and a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
"But I actually think that is a price worth paying for,” he wrote in response to emailed questions from VOA. While free trade is about “maximizing efficiency and wealth creation,” he wrote, “climate change is about living on the planet as we know it.”