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EU trade chief Hogan returns to Washington as auto tariffs loom

BRUSSELS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – European Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan returned to Washington on Thursday for talks with U.S. counterpart Robert Lighthizer designed to improve transatlantic ties as the threat of auto tariffs looms.

Hogan first visited the United States as EU trade chief three weeks ago, declaring at the time that the European Union’s bid to reset EU-U.S. economic relations had got off to a good start.

However, U.S. President Donald Trump said after meeting European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen in Davos a week later that he would impose tariffs on imports of cars from the European Union if no trade deal were struck.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Fox Business Network that reaching an agreement with the EU on agriculture and other issues was a priority for the Trump administration.

He said Trump’s policies had already led to increased European investment in the United States, another key priority.

“We’ve already seen a tremendous amount of investment by the European automakers into the U.S. and building factories here,” he said. “That’s also part of the agenda and that is working.”


Hogan had been due to address a conference on the digital economy in Brussels on Thursday morning, but abruptly changed his plans.

A European Commission spokesman said Hogan would hold talks in Washington with a number of U.S. administration officials, including Lighthizer.

“These meetings are part of the regular bilateral contacts being held at technical and political level in the framework of the discussions for a positive bilateral transatlantic trade agenda, launched by the European Union and the United States in July 2018,” the spokesman said.

In July 2018, Trump agreed to hold off on imposing car tariffs while Washington and Brussels discussed ways to improve economic ties. The EU has since agreed to boost imports of soybeans, liquefied natural gas and beef from the United States.

EU Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis this week said there clearly tensions in U.S.-EU relations, but Brussels was focused on shoring up ties between the two large trading partners.

“We are very serious about having a discussion with the United States about building on the win-win relationship that we have already,” he told a conference hosted by the Washington International Trade Association. “We have to focus on the future. There are opportunity costs to just focusing on the irritants.”

Lambrinidis told Reuters he had no information on a possible visit to Washington by von der Leyen.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Giles Elgood and Andrew Heavens)