And both sides claimed victory. Dubbing it a “big day for free and fair trade,” Trump highlighted Juncker’s pledge for the EU to import more American soybeans (a notable casualty of Trump’s trade war with China) and liquefied natural gas. Juncker, in turn, hailed Trump’s agreement not to impose any additional tariffs (including his threatened levies on European car exports) as “a major concession by the Americans.”
But neither side walked away with substantial wins. To get Trump to dial back his threats on EU auto exports, Juncker promised that the EU would import more soybeans and natural gas—two things the bloc is already doing. In exchange for this PR victory, Trump gave Juncker the opportunity to claim that he had averted new tariffs on EU car exports (for now). “Instead of a firm commitment, what we really got was big language of striking collaboration and entering into dialogue,” Marianne Schneider-Petsinger, a U.S. geoeconomics fellow at the London-based Chatham House, told me. “This combined with Trump’s history of backtracking might mean that there might be a couple of more surprises as things develop over the next couple of months.”
But for all the symbolic victories, there were some notable shifts. By agreeing to enter into negotiations without the U.S. lifting its steel and aluminum tariffs, Juncker reneged on the EU’s claim that it would “not negotiate under threat.” And after months of railing against European leaders, Trump’s willingness to make nice with the EU signaled that he too may be questioning whether trade wars are “easy to win” after all.
And if the talks break down? Trump can return to declaring that tariffs “are the greatest!” and Juncker can claim that he promised nothing that wasn’t already happening and, if nothing else, that he at least bought European car manufacturers more time. “I would be very cautiously optimistic about this,” Schneider-Petsinger said. “It was a surprise, it was a positive step. But it’s not this breakthrough that some people seem to make this out to be.”
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