markets

Europe's Widening Surplus With U.S. Could Fan Trade-War Tensions

Shipping containers sit aboard the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moeller Triple-E Class ship, operated by A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S, in the Port of Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Photographer: Kristian Helgesen

The European Union’s trade surplus with the U.S. widened by 6.8 percent over the past year despite threats of a trade war from U.S. President Donald Trump, who has branded the relationship between the two regions as unfair.

The EU had a trade surplus with the U.S. of 120.8 billion euros ($150.9 billion) in 2017, up from 113.1 billion euros in 2016, according to data compiled by Eurostat. Exports from the EU to the U.S. increased to 375 billion euros in 2017 from 363.5 billion euros the year prior, while imports from the U.S. grew to 254.2 billion euros from 250.4 billion euros.

The data comes as the EU is seeking to keep markets open worldwide in the face of Trump’s anti-globalization stance and to underscore the bloc’s continuing commercial clout as the U.K. prepares to leave in March 2019. Meanwhile, growth of U.S. exports to the region has been the slowest among all of the bloc’s major trading partners.

Trans-Atlantic Tensions

President Donald Trump says Europe has `unfair' advantage in trade with the U.S.

Sources: IMF (through 2016), Eurostat (2017)

Note: 2017 figures reflect the dollar/euro exchange rate as of Feb. 15, 2018.

The EU recently struck free-trade pacts with Canada and Japan, is pushing to wrap up a deal with Latin America and is gearing up for talks with Australia and New Zealand.

The change comes amid heightened tensions between Europe and the U.S. over the possibility of a trade dispute, with Washington threatening to restrict American purchases of foreign steel and aluminum on national-security grounds.

In late January, the EU gave Trump a fresh warning about any U.S. curbs on imports from Europe by pledging rapid retaliation, highlighting the persistent risk of a trans-Atlantic trade war. The alert by the European Commission also followed Trump’s decision earlier in January to impose tariffs on U.S. imports of solar panels and washing machines on the basis of rarely used “safeguard” rules.

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