Germany sees chance for breakthrough in trade spat with US

German flag flying in front of the Reichstag in Berlin

March 20, 2018 - Germany is making headway in its efforts to avoid a trade war with the U.S. as the European country seeks a breakthrough before President Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum go into effect at the end of this week.

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, a close confidante of Chancellor Angela Merkel, said his talks with U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross took place in a “very good and constructive atmosphere” that opened the door to a solution that avoids serious trade conflict.

“It’s not certain, but I see a chance that both sides can achieve, with good will, that there will be a positive signal by the end of the week,” Altmaier said in Washington. “I’m a few percent more optimistic” than before the talks with Ross.

Altmaier’s trip to the U.S. capital is part of two-pronged approach, with Finance Minister Olaf Scholz exchanging views with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at a meeting of Group of 20 finance chiefs in Buenos Aires. The discussions mark the first high-level talks between Germany and the U.S. since Trump announced plans to levy the tariffs earlier this month, sparking threats of retaliation by the European Union.

French Optimism

Merkel is pushing for exemptions for the EU to avoid a tit-for-tat on tariffs that could undermine Germany’s export strength, a frequent target of Trump’s ire over U.S. trade imbalances. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, also pressing the EU’s case in Buenos Aires, echoed Germany’s comments, signaling that he expects the U.S. to make a decision on exempting the EU from tariffs by the end of the week.

In his discussions with Mnuchin, Scholz told reporters in the Argentine capital that he had sought to learn about the motivations behind the U.S. threats on trade to avoid a repeat of the spat over steel and aluminum levies.

“We’re in discussions and this is the basis for hoping that in the end these talks will also lead to us securing the foundations of world trade and the open exchange of goods and services also in the future,” Scholz said shortly before his return to Germany. “I’m glad there are talks.

Source: Bloomberg