WASHINGTON: US officials announced negotiations for separate trade agreements with Britain, the European Union and Japan as part of efforts by President Donald Trump’s administration to rebalance global commerce.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the administration notified Congress of its intent to negotiate the three separate trade agreements.
“We are committed to concluding these negotiations with timely and substantive results for American workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses,” Lighthizer said in a statement.
The move follows the Trump administration’s renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico and its push to correct what Trump maintains is an unbalanced trade picture.
In the notifications to Congress on Japan and the EU, Lighthizer cited “chronic US trade imbalances” and said that US exporters have been long “challenged” by tariff and non-tariff barriers in Japan and in Europe.
The goal, he said, is to achieve “fairer, more balanced” trade with the US trading partners.
Lighthizer said the US would seek a trade agreement with Britain as soon as it exits the European Union in 2019.
The letter to Congress said Washington would seek to address tariff and non-tariff barriers and achieve “free, fair and reciprocal trade” with the United Kingdom.
Trump has been playing hardball with US trading partners, using tariffs and threats in an effort to boost US exports and curb the longstanding deficit in merchandise trade, despite warnings from many US lawmakers and the International Monetary Fund.
Trump in May had ordered Commerce to investigate the possibility of imposing tariffs of up to 25 per cent on foreign autos and auto parts, a prospect that alarmed the industry and could have serious repercussions for Japan and Europe.
“We need to work together to de-escalate and resolve the current trade disputes,” IMF chief Christine Lagarde said at an IMF and World Bank gathering in Bali last week.
Trump has levied or threatened tariffs on goods from economies around the world, notably China, but also on traditional allies such as the European Union.
More tariffs and their countermeasures “could lead to a broader tightening of financial conditions, with negative implications for the global economy and financial stability,” the fund warned.
The new talks, if successful, would address trade with Europe and Japan but leaves the thornier challenge of China, which accounts for more than half the US trade deficit.
The US trade deficit ballooned in August to its highest level in six months, according to government figures showing American consumers snapped up more imported cars and mobile phones.
The total US trade deficit rose 6.4 per cent over July to USD 53.2 billion, overshooting analyst forecasts.
Despite Trump’s efforts to attack the trade deficit, so far this year it has risen 8.6 percent over the same period in 2017.
The gap in goods trade with China rose to USD 38.6 billion for August and with Mexico hit USD 8.7 billion – both the highest monthly totals ever.
The August figures suggested retaliatory tariffs imposed by China continued to whipsaw American farmers, whose rural counties Trump’s Republican Party traditionally counts on for political support.