President Donald Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker speak in the Rose Garden of the White House, July 25, 2018, in Washington.
President Donald Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker speak in the Rose Garden of the White House, July 25, 2018, in Washington.

WHITE HOUSE - Amid an Oval Office showdown over trade Wednesday, the United States and European Union reached a truce and agreed to talks, during which time they will not punish each other with additional tariffs. 

The U.S. and EU presidents, following their nearly three hours of White House meetings, announced they had agreed, for now, not to escalate the trade row between the two partners responsible for half of global commerce. 

"We agreed today, first of all, to work together toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods," President Donald Trump announced in the White House Rose Garden with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at his side. "We will also work to reduce barriers and increase trade in services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical products, as well as soybeans." 

Juncker said that as long as negotiations continue, the parties will "hold off further tariffs and reassess existing tariffs on steel and aluminum," which were put in place by the Trump administration.

The EC president added, "I had an intention to make a deal today, and we made a deal today."

'Major concession'

Juncker later told reporters that Trump had made a "major concession" by agreeing not to increase tariffs on autos and parts. 

The U.S. president has been mulling significant additional tariffs in the automotive sector that would have been an especially big blow to the EU's biggest economy, Germany. 

The EU had already retaliated against the Trump administration's initial actions with $3 billion of tariffs on a variety of American products, including motorcycles and whiskey.

The European Commission had been preparing a list of $20 billion of U.S. goods to be hit with retaliatory tariffs, according to its trade commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom.

Germany's economy minister quickly hailed the words of Trump and Juncker, congratulating the two in a tweet:

"The proposed solutions move in the right direction, but a significant portion of skepticism remains," said the DIHK industry group of Germany, expressing concern about the automotive sector tariffs. It said Washington needed to rebuild trust across the Atlantic and remove the "illegal" tariffs.

The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, earlier had warned that Europe would not cave in to Trump's threats.

"No one has an interest in having punitive tariffs, because everyone loses in the end," Maas wrote on Twitter. "Europe will not be threatened by President Trump. If we cede once, we will often have to deal with such behavior in the future."

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. April 12, 2018
FILE - German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas addresses the media during a press conference in Oxford, England, April 12, 2018.

All agricultural products will be discussed in the planned talks between American and European officials, according to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. 

Immediately following the Rose Garden announcement, Trump met with 13 senators and representatives from farm states. American agricultural exports to the EU last year totaled more than $11 billion, making the continent the fifth-largest export market for American farmers.

Some of the lawmakers were outside under the colonnade when the U.S. president made his announcement about a truce, and they applauded.

Markets also cheered the joint announcement. When word of a deal leaked out just prior to the close of stock trading in New York, benchmark indexes rallied while currency dealers bought the euro, sending it soaring against the U.S. dollar. 

No resolution on steel, aluminum

Some analysts were less bullish than the traders. 

The joint announcement "did not advance the ball very far," said William Reinsch, a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"All in all, there is not a lot there, but it's still better than attacking each other," Reinsch, who served as undersecretary of commerce for export administration during the Clinton administration, told VOA.

"Yes, we avoided an escalation. But an avoidance of a disaster is not a success, per se," said Marie Kasperek, associate director of the Global Business and Economics Program at the Atlantic Council, a global affairs think tank in Washington.

She expressed disappointment that there was no immediate resolution of the steel and aluminum tariffs issue and no deadline set for one.

"I don't see how the EU, after having used the mantra 'we are not negotiating with a gun held to our head' for weeks and months, will be able to negotiate anything without losing face," Kasperek told VOA.