The EU’s trade surplus with the US reached a record level last year, data showed on Friday, increasing the risk that US President Donald Trump’s anger could reignite a trade war.
Trump is a furious critic of Europe’s high trade surpluses, accusing the EU — and especially Germany — of unfair practices against US workers, much as he does with China.
Last year, his government imposed punitive tariffs on steel and aluminum from Europe and other partners, and this was met with countermeasures by the EU, including duties on US motorcycles and denim jeans.
Last year, the EU trade surplus with the US reached 139.7 billion euros (US$157.81 billion), 20.1 billion more than in 2017, Eurostat said.
The new data landed as the US Department of Commerce is reported to have found that auto imports into the US threaten national security, the first step toward possible auto tariffs by Washington.
The report was expected to be delivered to the White House by today and has been seen as a major risk for EU automakers.
Trump would have 90 days to decide on taking the measures, with the latest surplus data likely to weigh on his decision.
Despite the tense situation, exports of goods from the 28 EU countries last year reached 406.4 billion euros, an increase of 8 percent from 2017, Eurostat said.
Imports from the US also increased to a total of 266.7 billion euros, but the increase was significantly lower, which is why the EU trade surplus climbed to the fresh record.
A European Commission spokesman did not want to speculate about the consequences for the ongoing trade talks with Washington.
“I won’t interpret any figures ... but trade relations are much more than trade surpluses or trade deficits,” the spokesman said.
The EU Commission has been seeking to defuse the dispute with Trump through a “limited” trade agreement with the US, and EU foreign trade ministers are to discuss a negotiating mandate next week.
European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom has proposed abolishing all customs duties on industrial goods, including vehicels, and removing barriers to trade posed by technical standards.
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