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EU trade surplus with US reaches new record in 2018

Chances are he won't be pleased by the trade figures from Brussels
Chances are he won't be pleased by the trade figures from Brussels AFP

Brussels (AFP)

The EU's trade surplus with the United States reached a record level in 2018, data showed 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 like he does with China.

Last year, his government imposed punitive tariffs on steel and aluminium from Europe and other partners, and this was met with countermeasures by the EU, including duties on US motorcycles and denim jeans.

In 2018, the EU trade surplus with the US reached 139.7 billion euros, 20.1 billion more than in 2017, according to the EU's Eurostat data agency.

The new data lands as the US Commerce department 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 is expected to be delivered to the White House by a Sunday deadline 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 in his decision.

"I like tariffs," Trump told reporters at press conference on Washington on Friday, saying they are bringing "many billions of dollars pouring into our Treasury."

Despite the tense situation, exports of goods from the 28 EU states last year reached 406.4 billion euros according to Eurostat. This was an increase of eight percent compared to the previous year.

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 spokesman for the European Commission 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 will discuss a negotiating mandate next week.

Foreign Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom has proposed abolishing all customs duties on industrial goods, including cars, and removing barriers to trade in technical standards.

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