Taoiseach’s pitch of new EU-US trade deal well received by President Trump
International trade relations was the divisive issue everyone awkwardly danced around during Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s much-anticipated visit to the White House. US President Donald Trump’s proposed steel and aluminium tariffs are bad news for Ireland and the rest of the EU.
Mr Varadkar entered the White House yesterday morning at a time of extremely strained cross-Atlantic relations.
Before his St Patrick’s Day visit, he vowed to represent the views of not only Ireland but also Brussels when he came face to face with Mr Trump.
He has tic-tacked all week with EU Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker about tactics.
There has been a lot of tough talk from the big-wigs in Brussels about implementing counter import taxes and taking legal action against the US through the World Trade Organisation. But so far it is only talk and dialogue is the EU’s preferred option to finding a resolution. Trump, on the other hand, is insisting the tariffs are essential for national security and protection of US jobs.
After greeting him at the door of the West Wing of the White House, Mr Trump led the Taoiseach to the Oval Office where they exchanged pleasantries and took questions from the media ahead of their formal meeting. He described Mr Varadkar as a “very popular prime minister” and said the relationship between the US and Ireland is “outstanding, and only getting better”.
Mr Trump was happy to take questions about visiting Ireland, golf and the alleged assassination attempt by Russian agents in the UK. But when the ‘Irish Independent’ asked if he would reconsider his steel tariffs, he just stared and remained silent. The media opportunity finished soon after.
Behind closed doors, Mr Varadkar was joined by his special envoy to the US, Waterford TD John Deasy, and his advisers. Mr Deasy has been working behind the scenes for the last year on a resolution for the thousands of undocumented Irish living in America.
After the meeting, Mr Varadkar addressed the media on his encounter with ‘The Donald’ and revealed he proposed a new trade deal between the US and the EU. “We also spoke about trade – the president has enormous concerns that the US isn’t being treated fairly, when it comes to trade, by China and Europe,” Mr Varadkar said.
“I put across the view that maybe the best way to resolve this is a new trade deal between America and Europe – and the president seemed very open to that,” he added. Sources at the meeting said the proposal was well received by the president.
Mr Varadkar also revealed Mr Trump raised the issue of undocumented Irish and said the president showed a “degree of enthusiasm” to resolving the issue.
From the White House, the Taoiseach travelled to Capitol Hill for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s annual St Patrick’s Day lunch.
Ryan offered a toast with a pint of Guinness and said the stout tasted better in Ireland before joking it was not a good year to bring up trade issues.
He got a laugh – Mr Trump and Mr Varadkar included – but it has only been four days since the Taoiseach warned that Irish whiskey could be hit with trade tariffs in a trade war, and who knows, Guinness could be next.
At the same event, Trump told the Taoiseach to call him whenever there was a problem and he’d solve it, before adding: “Except for trade – they’ve got those taxes so low. You’re a tough one to compete with on the taxes.”
Jokes aside, a trade war has not been averted but the Taoiseach’s proposal of a new deal could be the first footsteps towards a resolution.