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Biden looks to ease EU trade tensions ahead of Putin summit

4 months 5 days 7 hours ago Tuesday, June 15 2021 Jun 15, 2021 June 15, 2021 3:43 AM June 15, 2021 in News
Source: Associated Press

BRUSSELS (AP) — President Joe Biden is seeking to tamp down trade tensions with European allies as he spends one last day consulting with Western democracies ahead of his highly anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

After a pair of summits with Group of Seven world leaders in the U.K. and then NATO allies in Brussels, Biden meets Tuesday with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The president has sought to marshal widespread European support for his efforts to counter Russia prior to his Wednesday meeting in Geneva with Putin. But the U.S.-EU relationship is not without some tensions.

Biden will meet with the top EU officials as the continent’s leaders are becoming impatient that the American president has not yet addressed Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to impose import taxes on foreign steel and aluminum. There’s also a longstanding dispute over how much of a government subsidy each side unfairly provides for its aircraft manufacturing giant — Boeing in the United States and Airbus in the EU.

The Financial Times reported Tuesday that the EU and U.S. are poised to end their 17-year dispute over aircraft subsidies, lifting the threat of billions of dollars in punitive tariffs on their economies.

The newspaper said diplomats and officials confirmed Monday that the sides are on the cusp of securing a deal, after two days of intensive negotiations, and that it could be announced at the EU-U.S. summit.

It said the last hurdle appeared to be to get Germany, France and Spain — Airbus’s three home countries in Europe – to sign on to the agreement. The paper quoted officials briefed on the talks as saying the deal is likely to be a multiyear accord on subsidy limits.

Even without action on tariffs, White House officials think they can build more goodwill with Europe ahead of the Putin face-to-face meeting.

To that end, the White House announced Tuesday the creation of a joint U.S.-EU trade and technology council. The trans-Atlantic council will work on coordinating standards for artificial intelligence, quantum computing and bio-technologies, as well as coordinating efforts on bolstering supply chain resilience. Biden is appointing Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai to co-chair the U.S. side of the effort.

The White House said the two sides will discuss efforts to stem climate change and the launching of an expert group to determine how best to reopen travel safely as the coronavirus pandemic ebbs.

Biden starts his day by meeting with Belgian King Philippe and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

The U.S.-EU summit is also expected to include a communique that will address concerns about China’s provocative behavior.

Tuesday’s statement would follow a NATO summit communique on Monday that declared China a constant security challenge and said the Chinese are working to undermine the global rules-based order. On Sunday, the G-7 called out what it said were China’s forced labor practices and other human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the western Xinjiang province.

Since taking office in January, Biden has repeatedly pressed Putin to take action to stop Russian-originated cyberattacks on companies and governments in the U.S. and around the globe and decried the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Biden also has publicly aired intelligence that suggests — albeit with low to moderate confidence — that Moscow offered bounties to the Taliban to target U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan.

Both Biden and Putin have described the U.S.-Russia relationship as being at an all-time low.

The Europeans are keen to set up a “high-level dialogue” on Russia with the United States to counter what they say is Moscow’s drift into authoritarianism and anti-Western sentiment.

At the same time, the 27-nation bloc is deeply divided in its approach to Moscow. Russia is the EU’s biggest natural gas supplier, and plays a key role in a series of international conflicts and key issues, including the Iran nuclear deal and conflicts in Syria and Libya.

The hope is that Biden’s meeting with Putin on Wednesday might pay dividends, and no one in Brussels wants to undermine the show of international unity that has been on display at the G-7 and NATO summits, according to EU officials.

In addition to scolding China, NATO leaders in their communique on Monday took a big swipe at Russia, deploring its aggressive military activities and snap wargames near the borders of NATO countries as well as the repeated violation of the 30-nations’ airspace by Russian planes.

They said Russia has ramped up “hybrid” actions against NATO countries by attempting to interfere in elections, political and economic intimidation, disinformation campaigns and “malicious cyber activities.”

“Until Russia demonstrates compliance with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities, there can be no return to ‘business as usual,’” the NATO leaders wrote. “We will continue to respond to the deteriorating security environment by enhancing our deterrence and defense posture.”

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