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Trump hopeful on trade talks with EU, hints at reprieve for some duties on Italian products

Kitco News

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday said Washington was in talks with “some new people” in Europe about trade issues and he hoped the discussions would be successful, as Italy’s president urged Trump to avoid counterproductive tariffs.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella told reporters ahead of his meeting with Trump that he hoped the two allies could cooperate on trade issues and avoid retaliatory tariffs.

The meeting came two days before Washington is slated to impose tariffs on up to $7.5 billion of imports of European Union goods, including many Italian cheeses and wines, following the World Trade Organization’s green light for the move over subsidies to planemaker Airbus (AIR.PA).

The EU is also bracing for a Nov. 14 deadline when the Trump administration must decide whether to impose threatened U.S. national security tariffs of as much as 25% on vehicles and parts that have already been delayed once by six months.

Trump said Rome backed efforts by Washington and Brussels to reach a broader trade deal that could stave off the tariffs on cars. He waded into potentially controversial territory by suggesting Italy could boost its bilateral trade with the United States if it were unshackled from EU rules that ban such deals.

“Without the burdens, as unfair as they are, imposed by the European Union, we would actually have a much higher number than $70 billion between Italy and the United States,” Trump said at a news conference with Mattarella.

Trump also dangled the prospect of some tariff relief for Rome, whose cheese and wine imports were hit hard on the list of goods facing 25% higher duties on Friday.

“We’re talking to the president about that as it pertains to Italy,” Trump said. “He thought we were a little bit harsh on Italy and we don’t want to be harsh on Italy. We’ll never do that. So we’ll look at that very strongly.”

Trump said Washington aimed to avoid broader tariffs for now. “I could solve the problem instantly but it would be too harsh. It would involve tariffs on European products coming into this country and for right now we’re going to try to do it without that,” he said.

U.S. trade ambassador Dennis Shea said on Monday Washington preferred a negotiated solution to end the dispute over aircraft launch aid, but said the EU needed to permanently end subsidies to Airbus and ensure they were not revived under another name.

The WTO has found that Airbus and its U.S. rival Boeing (BA.N) received billions of dollars of illegal subsidies in a pair of cases that have run for 15 years. An adjudication in the Boeing case is expected early in 2020, which will pave the way for EU tariffs on U.S. goods.

The United States has said it will impose 10% tariffs on Airbus planes and 25% duties on a range of products, including Italian cheese, French wine, Scottish whiskies and other products from across the continent.

Mattarella said the EU wanted a negotiated settlement for the issue. “I do hope that we can come up with a cooperative based approach ... so that we can avoid retaliation between the two parties,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.

Trump said he did not expect the EU to retaliate since the U.S. tariffs had been cleared by the WTO.

“In theory, there can’t be a retaliation because ... this was an award that we got for the unfair treatment given to the United States by the European Union,” the U.S. president said. “This was getting us even.”

Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Makini Brice; Writing by Andrea Shalal and Susan Heavey; Editing Chizu Nomiyama

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