US, EU hatch mini-deal to cut lobster, other tariffs

THE United States and the European Union today announced a mini-deal valued at around US$200 mil (RM836 mil) to cut import tariffs on a small range of products, including US lobsters, in a sign of easing transatlantic trade tensions.

The two, who have been at odds over aircraft subsidies and US President Donald Trump’s imposition of punitive tariffs on EU steel and aluminium, announced the deal in a joint statement.

“The importance of the deal is that it has unleashed positive results elsewhere,” an EU official said.

Under the agreement, the EU will remove tariffs of 8%-12% on imports of lobsters, while the United States will halve its duties on imports of certain glassware, ceramics, disposable lighters and prepared meals.

To comply with World Trade Organisation rules, the lowered and removed tariffs will apply to all WTO members, although the products have been chosen so as to maximize the mutual benefits.

The whole deal is worth some 168 million euros, based on 2019 trade.

The EU imported some 42 million euros of US lobsters and exported to the United States 126 million euros of the other products involved.

The apparent mismatch is partly because the United States will only be halving, not removing, tariffs.

Lobsters have been a big concern for Trump, who threatened in June to impose tariffs on Europe and China over lobster duties.

Lawmakers from Maine have repeatedly called for aid for the lobster industry, which supports the livelihood of 4,500 state-licenced lobstermen and an additional 10,000 people.

US Senator Angus King said the agreement would help level the playing field for US producers whose European sales declined after a trade deal between Canada and the EU eliminated tariffs on Canadian lobsters.

The US industry has also been hurt by Chinese tariffs imposed in 2018 and the collapse of sales to restaurants during coronavirus-related lockdowns.

The agreement will still need approval from EU governments and the European Parliament. That could come within weeks.

Washington has subjected US$7.5 bil of EU products, including Scottish whisky, French wine and European cheese, to tariffs because of a WTO case it won over EU subsidies given to planemaker Airbus.

It had threatened to increase them. However, it carried out only very modest changes last week, a move welcomed by the European Commission as a sign of Washington’s willingness to work through a range of trade disputes with Brussels.

The WTO is expected to clear the way for European tariffs against US products in a dispute over subsidies given to Boeing this autumn. – Aug 22, 2020, Reuters

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