Spotlight: Pompeo's Europe trip comes up short both on schedule and in substance

Source: Xinhua| 2019-05-11 04:54:06|Editor: yan
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BRUSSELS, May 10 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has for the second time this week canceled part of his travel plans in Europe, cutting short a trip that was supposed to shore up U.S. commitment and ties with traditional allies. Instead, he left a trail of disagreements that dogged the transatlantic relations.


Pompeo's first stop was about the Arctic, where the Arctic Council for the first time in 23 years did not issue a declaration that would also act as a guideline for the next chairing country.

The embarrassment was a direct result of Trump administration's outlier position on climate change: whereas other participants sent warnings over the melting of the Arctic sea ice, Pompeo praised it.

"The Arctic is at the forefront of opportunity and abundance," he said. "It houses 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil, 30 percent of its undiscovered gas, an abundance of uranium, rare-earth minerals, gold, diamonds, and millions of square miles of untapped resources, fisheries galore."

Such tone-deaf rhetoric appears to suggest that the melting wasn't rapid enough: "Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade. This could potentially slash the time it takes to travel between Asia and the West by as much as 20 days," he said.

No wonder other participants couldn't stomach that. In fact, the Trump administration's rejection of climate change is widely opposed by Europe, especially France, where the Paris accord was inked.

In April, France's reluctance for giving a mandate to European Commission to engage the U.S. on trade talks was only overcome at the last minute.

"France battled very hard against this mandate until the last minute, due to Paris climate agreement difference with Washington, and it is only at the 11th hour that its concern was appeased and consensus was found," said Aline Doussin, a trade law expert at the international law firm Hogan Lovells.


Pompeo was then supposed to go to Berlin, until he canceled the trip at the last minute, due to unspecified "pressing issues."

That was clearly an affront to Germany, whose largest broadsheet newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung seethed "The German-American relationship is in tatters."

It later turned out that Pompeo paid an unscheduled trip to Iraq, because of the situation in neighboring Iran.

But perhaps no other subject than the Iran nuclear deal better illustrated the stark differences across the Atlantic.

European powers, including France, Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union (EU), have steadfastly upheld the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA), after the Trump administration withdrew from it.

On Thursday, they said in a joint statement that they "recall our own firm commitments under the agreement including as regards sanctions-lifting for the benefit of the Iranian people. In this regard, we regret the re-imposition of sanctions by the United States following their withdrawal from the JCPoA."

In fact, Jeremy Hunt, the UK's foreign secretary, said to Pompeo's face in London that the nuclear deal was an important achievement of Western diplomacy and "For as long as Iran keeps its commitments, then so too will the United Kingdom."

Pompeo had been scheduled to leave London for a visit to Greenland on Thursday, but again changed course. Instead, he directly headed home.


While Pompeo talks up a potential trade deal with the UK after its withdrawal from the EU, deep suspicions linger on the other side of the English Channel over the bloc's own future trade talks with the U.S.

That's partly due to the memory of the TTIP, or Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the largest bilateral trade initiative ever negotiated but pronounced dead by the Trump administration, which went on to stoke trade tensions with its traditional ally as well as the rest of the world.

In April, the European Union finalized its position to initiate new trade talks with the U.S., but some say the talks might be doomed before they even start.

Peter Holmes, trade expert and economics lecturer at University of Sussex told Xinhua that "I think the prospects for a new TTIP deal between the EU and the U.S. are very limited. The U.S. attitude towards the WTO and its international commitments makes the EU reluctant to reopen wider trade policy and regulatory issues. The U.S. published proposals for an agenda for talks is very biased towards U.S. special interests than the EU. The EU would be willing to enter talks with the U.S. on tariffs alone but the U.S. has indicated that this would probably not be acceptable."

The U.S. has insisted on including agricultural products in the trade talks, while the EU wanted "a trade agreement strictly focused on industrial goods, excluding agricultural products."

With U.S. tariffs over EU metal exports still reigning, President Donald Trump's threat of more levies continued to loom over EU's car exports. "They barely take our agricultural products, and yet they can sell Mercedes Benz and they can sell anything they want in our country including their farm products, and it's not fair," he said in April.

Germany certainly got the most to lose if car tariffs were imposed. There, companies dislike trade tensions.

"ZF advocates free trade because it has been shown that free trade has brought growth to the world economy. A trade conflict only produces losers and has no winners in the long run. An escalation of the trade conflict would hit ZF as a global automotive supplier, because the global automotive industry is a highly complex network of goods flows," said Andreas Veil, Spokesman, Head of Business and Finance Communications for German auto supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG.

Also looming over transatlantic trade ties are ratchet-up fights over the protracted dispute over respective industrial subsidies to Airbus and Boeing, with the U.S. planning to impose tariffs on 11 billion U.S. dollars worth of EU products, after which Brussels came up with a 20-billion hit list of American goods.

"It is likely that the Trump administration is using this tariff threat to leverage its negotiations with the EU, pushing the latter to lower its industrial tariffs to the U.S., and to force the EU to follow the U.S. more closely in multilateral and geopolitical settings," said Wallace Shuaihua Cheng, Research Fellow at Germans Development Institute.

Recent discord over intensified U.S. sanctions against Cuba added another layer of strains to relations between the U.S. and the EU, which slammed U.S. unilateralism as contrary to international law. Brussels has pledged to take all appropriate measures to protect its interests.