“This administration has come into office with a deliberate intention to disrupt and to challenge the sort of status quo,” David O’Sullivan, European Union ambassador to the United States, said Friday. “This is obviously challenging for those of us who kind of have worked on the status quo and who actually think there were large elements of the status quo that worked to our mutual benefit.”
O’Sullivan leaves his post at the end of the month, with tensions over trade and the Iran nuclear deal simmering between the United States and E.U. On Friday, the E.U. began to debate when to start trade talks with Trump — under threat of Trump tariffs on E.U. car parts.
European leaders, including O’Sullivan, insist that hitting European cars and car parts with 232 tariffs, so as to suggest that they are a national security threat to the United States, is outrageous. Trump threatened to make that very move this week, saying: “It’s something we think about and we’re negotiating with [the E.U.]. If we don’t make the deal, we’ll do the tariffs.”
To Europeans, the move would not only be offensive but also counterproductive, given what they see as the real source of trade issues: China.
“Looking at the trade and economic side of things, I think we share much of the analysis of the challenge posed by Chinese practices,” O’Sullivan said, speaking at a media roundtable. “We had suggested from the very early days to have a collaborative approach, and that is why we set up the trilateral approach with Japan, the E.U. and the U.S. on steel — excess capacity in China on steel and aluminum, which we saw as the origin of the problem.”
But the Trump administration imposed steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, the E.U. and Mexico in May.
“It has not been particularly helpful,” O’Sullivan said, “that in that context the people who end up getting tariffs imposed, which actually damage their exports, are the E.U. and Mexico and Canada, which we didn’t feel were actually at the origin of the problem.”
“There are moments when we feel, this is not maybe the best way to build an alliance,” he added.
Asked whether trade talks would stop if Trump did go ahead with 232 tariffs on cars and car parts, the outgoing ambassador said: “That’s clear. If there ever were to be the unilateral imposition of new tariffs on autos, the talks would be ended.”
As for the Trump administration’s unilateral decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and subsequent demands recently delivered by Vice President Pence at the Munich Security Conference, including that European leaders withdraw from the deal, the outgoing ambassador said, “The administration will have to understand this is an issue where we agree to disagree.”