U.S. selfishness on trade not sustainable, world needs better WTO - EU

BRUSSELS, March 19 (Reuters) - European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen said on Tuesday that Washington's "selfish" approach to trade was not sustainable, but it was too early to say that EU-U.S. trade talks were doomed to fail.

The Trump administration has imposed stiff tariffs on U.S. imports of steel and aluminium and set off a trade war with China in a bid to redress what it sees as unfavourable terms that contribute to a U.S. trade deficit of over half a trillion dollars a year.

The Commission, which negotiates trade agreements on behalf of the 28-nation European Union, has been in talks with U.S. authorities since last July, seeking to clinch a deal on industrial goods trade.

EU governments are now discussing the details of a negotiating mandate for the Commission, while Washington has until mid-May to decide whether to make good on President Donald Trump's threat to impose tariffs on imports of European cars.

"It is too early to say that our trade discussions are doomed to fail," Katainen told a regular news briefing.

"There are discussions going on on several levels and ... we can end up having some sort of an agreement with the U.S. on trade, but let's not go deeper than this," he said, adding that the scope of negotiations had to be clear and that a deal would require a lot of good will and political capital on both sides.

Asked about a reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Katainen said it was problematic and that attempts to get it done were like pushing a rope.

"Japan, China and the EU are willing to reform the WTO, the U.S. has not been that interested, but they are willing to cooperate," he said.

"Even though the U.S. authorities may think that selfishness is better than cooperation, it is not a sustainable way of thinking. We need better, rules-based trade in the future where the international community sets the rules," he said.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told Congress last week that the WTO was using an "out of date" playbook despite dramatic changes including the rise of China and the evolution of the internet.

He said Washington was nonetheless working "diligently" to negotiate new WTO rules to address these problems. (Reporting By Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

2019-03-19 15:54:15

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