EU Officials: US Participation in Paris Climate Deal Key for Resuming Trade Talks

15 February 2018

Officials from some EU member states and the bloc’s executive branch have affirmed in recent weeks that the US’ continued participation in the UN’s Paris Agreement on climate change is essential if the two sides are to resume formal trade talks in the future. 

Speaking to the French Parliament early this month, France’s Secretary of State to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne indicated that the Paris Agreement would be an integral part of all EU trade agreements moving forward, including any involving the United States.

“One of our main demands is that any country who signs a trade agreement with EU should implement the Paris Agreement on the ground,” Lemoyne said. “No Paris Agreement, no trade agreement. The US knows what to expect.”

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström concurred with the French minister’s statement via social media site Twitter, saying in response to questions on the subject that “Yes Paris deal reference [is] needed in all EU trade agreement[s] today.”

She noted that such language is already planned for the EU’s trade deal with the Mercosur countries, as well as the modernisation of its existing agreement with Mexico, both of which are said to be in the final negotiating stages. The EU trade chief added that such language was also featured in the recently concluded EU-Japan agreement. The commissioner’s statement was explained in further detail by a spokesperson for the European Commission, speaking to Climate Home News.

“Since the deal we concluded last year with Japan, this chapter contains an explicit reference to the ratification and actual implementation of the Paris climate deal. This point is a priority for the EU and it would be difficult to imagine concluding an important trade deal without an ambitious chapter on trade and sustainable development attached to it,” the spokespersson said.

TTIP prospects still unclear

The US-EU trade talks for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) were launched by the administration of then-President Barack Obama in 2013. After progressing through over a dozen formal rounds, the negotiations were put on hold in late 2016, as the newly formed administration under US President Donald Trump considered its position on the deal. (See Bridges Weekly, 26 January 2017)

The Trump Administration has yet to clarify its intentions regarding TTIP, though US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in September, emphasised the importance of the US’ relationship with the EU. (See Bridges Weekly, 21 September 2017)

“There is just an enormous amount of trade between the United States and Europe. So improving the rules there is something we should do. And working with Europe on a whole variety of other things, including the challenge with China but also negotiations within the WTO, is also important,” he said at the time.

Other administration officials have also not ruled out participation in TTIP in the future, and some such as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross have suggested they may welcome doing so later down the road. However, whether the White House decides to push for the talks could be complicated by Trump’s stated intention last year to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Accord at the federal level.

The EU executive arm’s approach to trade policy, underpinned by the Commission’s “Trade for All” strategy, emphasises that its negotiated agreements with other countries will not compromise on what the bloc views as key values, including on environmental protections. (See Bridges Weekly, 15 October 2015)

Under the Paris Agreement rules, the US will not be able to officially withdraw until early November 2020, and the US State Department has declared its intention to continue participating in the UN climate negotiations until the formal withdrawal takes place. Trump has also expressed several times that he is open to reconsidering the US’ participation so long as there is a re-negotiation of the agreement, though what this would entail is unclear. Leaders from around the globe have said repeatedly that the accord is not up for re-negotiation. (See Bridges Weekly, 8 June 2017) 

Ongoing US-EU trade tensions

The statements from the EU comes amid rising bilateral tensions between the EU and US on several other trade-related fronts. Trump has repeatedly said in recent months, including in a January interview on ITV, that EU policies have been “very unfair” for US exporters.

“I’ve had a lot of problems with European Union, and it may morph into something very big from that standpoint, from a trade standpoint,” he said, adding that “the European Union has been very, very unfair to the United States, and I think it’ll turn out to be very much to their detriment.”

The European Commission responded promptly, with a spokesperson warning against any US trade restrictions.

“We here in the European Union believe that trade can and should be win-win. We also believe that while trade has to be open and fair it has also to be rules-based. The European Union stands ready to react swiftly and appropriately in case our exports are affected by any restrictive trade measures from the United States,” spokesperson Margaritis Schinas told reporters, according to comments cited by Reuters.

The EU has joined China, Chinese Taipei, and South Korea in asking for consultations on compensation in response to the recent US safeguard tariff on solar cells, which Trump confirmed a few weeks ago. The EU consultations request, submitted to the WTO Committee on Safeguards last week, notes that Germany is an important exporter of the solar goods in question. Singapore has since followed suit with its own consultations request. (See Bridges Weekly, 8 February 2018)

EU officials have also indicated that the outcome of a national security-focused US investigation into steel and aluminium imports could lead to increased bilateral tensions, as well as the possibility of retaliatory action. The investigation, known as a “Section 232” probe, has not yet led to a decision by the US executive branch. However, Trump told domestic lawmakers on Tuesday that he is weighing the option of imposing tariffs.

ICTSD reporting; “Brussels prepared for trade war with US if it restricts EU imports,” THE GUARDIAN, 29 January 2018; “EU says no new trade deals with countries not in Paris Agreement,” CLIMATE HOME, 2 February 2018; “EU Tells Trump: No Paris Climate Deal, No Free Trade,” FORBES, 8 February 2018; “Europe will retaliate if hit by U.S. steel controls – EU trade chief,” REUTERS, 26 June 2017; “Trump weighs tariffs, quotas on US steel, aluminium imports,” REUTERS, 14 February 2018. 

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