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EU and US agree to resolve steel and aluminium dispute by end of year

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By Christopher Pitchers
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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, right, and U.S. President Joe Biden arrive for the EU-US summit, June 15, 2021.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, right, and U.S. President Joe Biden arrive for the EU-US summit, June 15, 2021.   -   Copyright  Francisco Seco/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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The European Union and the United States have agreed to engage in discussions to resolve differences on measures regarding steel and aluminium by the end of the year.

A deal to suspend levies for five years over subsidies given to rival aerospace companies, Boeing and Airbus, had been reached prior to the meeting in Brussels, but an agreement on tariffs on exports of the two metals was a step too far this time around.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters at a press conference following the summit that a steel tariffs "working group" will be established with the aim of "making good progress in moving forward within months".

The trade dispute dates back to the administration of former US President Donald Trump who, in March 2018, decided to slap extra tariffs on EU exports of steel and aluminium entering the US. The duties were set at 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium. According to the European Commission, this represents €6.4 billion worth of trade.

As a countermove, the EU imposed extra duties on a list of US imports worth €2.8 billion. The targeted products included steel, aluminium, peanut butter, whiskey, motorcycles and jeans.

But the disagreement in this area did not dampen the sense of renewal between the two sides.

President Joe Biden who was meeting with von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel on Tuesday as part of the US Commander-in-Chief's European tour expressed his keenness to work together on a whole host of issues.

"The best answer... is to have a circumstance where our economies grow and they grow together and they grow still based on the values set that united us in the first place," Biden told reporters during the meeting.

One of these issues is climate change and what is needed to move forward with combatting it. On this, the two sides have agreed to create a Transatlantic Green Technology Alliance that would foster cooperation on the development and deployment of green technologies, as well as to promote markets to scale such technologies.

They have also agreed to set up an EU-US High-Level Climate Action Group that is designed to strengthen the implementation of the Paris Climate accord.

A newly established EU-US Trade and Technology Council (TTC) was announced too, in order to design standards for emerging technology, address the responsibility of online platforms, strengthen and diversify supply chains and promote joint investments.

The TTC proposal was first introduced by the Commission shortly after Biden won the 2020 presidential elections. Its ultimate goal will be to ensure that existing and future technologies follow Western democratic values instead of rules determined by China.

The pandemic was also in sharp focus, with the creation of a Joint EU–US COVID Manufacturing and Supply Chain Taskforce agreed to.

The idea behind this is to expand vaccine and therapeutics production capacity by building new production facilities for vaccines and therapeutics, maintaining open and secure supply chains, avoiding any unnecessary export restrictions, and encouraging voluntary sharing of know-how and technology.

"We want to send COVID-19 to the history books, and there is only one way: international cooperation. We must deliver on this, by making sure that the world’s population has access to vaccines," Michel said on Tuesday.

Both sides also expressed the urgent need to reform the World Health Organization (WHO).

The leaders say that the benefits of developing a WHO agreement on pandemic preparedness and response, in order to respond rapidly to any potential future crisis, should be assessed.

"Learning the lessons from COVID also means learning how to prepare for future pandemics and health crises. We discussed a possible treaty on pandemics," Michel said on Tuesday.

Von der Leyen said that the investigative powers of the WHO "need to be enhanced" and that the time lost at the beginning of the pandemic "should not happen again".