The European Union distanced itself from the idea of reviving talks on a broad free-trade agreement with the US as part of EU efforts to gain a permanent exemption from President Donald Trump's controversial import tariffs on steel and aluminium.
A day after US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said the Trump administration is willing to restart negotiations on the stalled Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the European Commission said it's seeking a "dialogue" with Washington "on issues of common interest" including global steel overcapacity.
"More contacts will be held in the coming weeks to agree the exact scope and framework of this EU-US dialogue," a spokesman for the commission, the 28-nation EU's executive arm in Brussels, said yesterday. "The commission is committed to engage in this process in an open and constructive way. However, it should be clear that this dialogue does not represent the revival of the process for a comprehensive Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership."
The TTIP negotiations to expand the world biggest economic relationship have been frozen since Mr Trump entered the White House with an "America First" agenda that has shunned multilateral trade initiatives. This extended to the completed Trans-Pacific Partnership, from which Mr Trump withdrew.
"He terminated the trans-Pacific deal; he didn't terminate TTIP," Mr Ross said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Thursday.
"That was meant quite deliberately and quite overtly as a message that we're open to discussions with the European Commission."
European trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom and Mr Ross spoke four days ago with their eyes on a May 1 deadline for Mr Trump to decide whether to prolong an exclusion for the EU from US import tariffs of 25pc on steel and 10pc on aluminium.
The White House justified the levies on national-security grounds that have been dismissed by the EU, which has demanded a permanent exemption and threatened to join China in applying tit-for-tat tariffs on American goods.
Mr Trump set a vague condition for prolonging the metal- tariffs waiver beyond May 1.
EU leaders showed as much annoyance as relief at the temporary exemption on March 23. (Bloomberg)