US sets new trade talks with EU, Japan, Britain

Donald Trump
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, right, said trade talks will seek to end imbalances with the EU and Japan. AFP

US officials announced Tuesday 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 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 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 aim 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 American exports and curb the longstanding deficit in merchandise trade, despite warnings from many lawmakers and the International Monetary Fund.

In May, the president had ordered the Commerce Department to investigate the possibility of imposing tariffs of up to 25 percent 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," International Monetary Fund 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 including the European Union.