Call it the EU’s pincer movement against U.S. President Donald Trump.
The European Parliament got its bite back in the transatlantic trade war against Trump when its trade chief on Thursday urged his colleagues to shoot down a deal on lobsters struck with Washington in August.
The European Commission’s agreement to slash EU tariffs on live and frozen lobsters from the U.S. was widely seen as a peace offering, but Bernd Lange, the chair of Parliament’s trade committee, complained that the Americans were not entering into the spirit of rapprochement.
Lange, a senior German politician from the center-left Socialists and Democrats group, argued the U.S. had gone too far by raising tariffs on aluminum again on Friday last week, and said he now wanted to reject the mini-deal on crustaceans. The deal is close to Trump’s heart in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election because he won one of out of the four electoral votes in the lobstering state of Maine in the 2016 race.
“To be honest, I am not really willing to de-escalate … again and again, when from the U.S. side we have only escalation,” Lange said. “I think we should give a clear answer to the United States.”
“Sometimes this patience … is limited. And this is the case now on the question of the United States” — Bernd Lange
The move represents a volte-face for Lange, who was Parliament’s point-man on the lobster deal and had, until Thursday, been a leading proponent of it.
Lange argued Trump’s latest tariff increase showed that repeated EU moves to de-escalate had been pointless, including the decision not to impose tariffs on nearly $4 billion authorized by the World Trade Organization over subsidies for Boeing.
Instead, Canada’s threat to retaliate had forced Trump to withdraw his tariffs on Canadian aluminum in September, Lange argued. “Perhaps this is the only answer the United States and the Lighthizer administration understand,” he said, referring to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
“Normally, you see it in my report, I would say OK, let’s start de-escalating and go ahead with this lobster deal,” Lange told his colleagues on Thursday.
“But last Friday, the U.S. imposed new tariffs on aluminium … and Lighthizer and Mr. Trump in Ohio made it very clear that they wanted to protect their market.
“I think a lot of you know that I am from the north of Germany, and for [northern Germans] it’s typical that they have a lot of patience,” Lange said. “But sometimes this patience … is limited. And this is the case now on the question of the United States.”
Danuta Hübner from the center-right European People’s Party said her group had been completely “taken by surprise” by Lange’s change of heart. While she agreed it was “tempting” to reject the deal and stand up to Trump, Hübner said she would discuss it with her party colleagues before deciding.
MEPs from most other parties also said they would check with their colleagues whether to back Lange’s new position.
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