Brace for tariffs on cars, German official says after meetings in U.S.

'There is quite a lot of impatience on the U.S. side'

WASHINGTON — European Union member states should brace for U.S. tariffs on autos and other products in the coming months, a senior German official said late on Tuesday, following meetings with U.S. officials and lawmakers in Washington.

Peter Beyer, a German lawmaker and Germany's transatlantic coordinator, said there was continued U.S. interest in dialogue with Europe, but the Trump administration appeared poised to impose tariffs over disputes about aircraft subsidies, the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline and European car imports.

President Donald Trump said in May some imported vehicles and parts posed a national security threat, but postponed a decision for as long as six months on imposing tariffs on European and Japanese auto imports to allow time for trade talks with both partners.

European officials fear that Trump will now turn his attention to Europe, after brokering a truce in a protracted trade battle with China.

"These are difficult discussions in a difficult international environment," Germany Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said after a meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in Washington.

He said the exchange with Mnuchin was "productive and constructive," focusing on reducing global tensions, easing trade disputes and keeping jobs in both countries.

Beyer, who met with officials from the U.S. Trade Representative's office and the White House, as well as U.S. lawmakers, said the car tariffs were likely in mid-November, given growing U.S. impatience with the European Union and its refusal to include agriculture in broader trade talks.

"When it comes to the car tariffs, I unfortunately think they are more likely than not to be imposed in mid-November. There is quite a lot of impatience on the U.S. side. But that also requires us on the European side to be strong and unified."

Beyer said the U.S. government appeared interested in resolving disputes between the United States and the EU before the World Trade Organization (WTO) over aircraft subsidies, but was unlikely to refrain from imposing tariffs in the interim.

"The WTO arbitrator decision is expected soon, as early as next week. I fully expect the Trump administration to impose tariffs. The U.S. side feels entitled to impose the tariffs and I believe they will, in any case," he said.

The WTO has found that both U.S.-based Boeing and Europe's Airbus, the world's two largest planemakers, have received billions of dollars of harmful or illegal government subsidies to gain advantage in the global jet business.

The United States and EU have each threatened to impose billions of dollars of tit-for-tat tariffs, with Washington first in line to seek tariffs under the WTO timetable.

The WTO arbitrator is due to decide how much of the $11.2 billion (£8.9 billion) in tariffs proposed by Washington can be applied.

Altmaier said he would discuss efforts to settle the dispute with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Thursday, adding, "In our view it is in the interest of both sides to avoid these tit-for-tit tariffs," he told reporters.

The EU this month said it was open to talks with Washington in the dispute, but no formal talks have begun, according to sources familiar with the issue.

Beyer said he told U.S. officials that he did not view imposing tariffs ahead of any such settlement talks "as a great way to build confidence in that process."

European companies could also face sanctions as early as August or September over U.S. objections about Russia's Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project, Beyer said.

The 760-mile (1,225-km) pipeline project to ship gas from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany has drawn U.S. objections on security grounds and divided the European Union.

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