United States President Joe Biden ended one front in a Trump-era trade war when he met European Union leaders on Tuesday by agreeing to a truce in a transatlantic dispute over aircraft subsidies that has dragged on for 17 years.
Quoting Irish poet WB Yeats at the start of his first EU-US summit as president, Biden also said the world was shifting and that Western democracies needed to come together.
“The world has changed, changed utterly,” Biden, an Irish-American, said, citing from the poem Easter 1916, in remarks that pointed towards the themes of his eight-day trip through Europe: China’s rise, the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.
Sitting at an oval table in the EU’s headquarters with US cabinet officials, he told EU institution leaders that the bloc and the US working together was “the best answer to deal with these changes” that he said brought “great anxiety”.
He earlier told reporters he had very different opinions from his predecessor. Former President Donald Trump also visited the EU institutions, in May 2017, but later imposed tariffs on the EU and promoted Brexit – the United Kingdom’s departure from the bloc.
“I think we have great opportunities to work closely with the EU as well as NATO and we feel quite good about it,” Biden said after walking through the futuristic glass Europa Building, also known as The Egg, to the summit meeting room with EU institution leaders.
“It’s overwhelmingly in the interest of the USA to have a great relationship with NATO and the EU. I have very different views than my predecessor,” he said.
The two sides agreed to remove tariffs on $11.5bn of goods from EU wine to US tobacco and spirits for five years. The tariffs were imposed on a tit-for-tat basis over mutual frustration with state subsidies for US planemaker Boeing and European rival Airbus.
“This meeting has started with a breakthrough on aircraft,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said. “This really opens a new chapter in our relationship because we move from litigation to cooperation on aircraft – after 17 years of dispute … Today we have delivered.”
Biden’s summit is with von der Leyen and the European Council President Charles Michel, who represents EU governments.
Biden also repeated his mantra – “America is back” – and spoke of the need to provide good jobs for European and American workers, particularly after the economic impact of COVID-19. He spoke of his father saying that a job “was more than just a paycheque” because it brought dignity.
He is seeking European support to defend Western liberal democracies in the face of a more assertive Russia and China’s military and economic rise.
“We’re facing a once in a century global health crisis,” Biden said at NATO on Monday evening, while adding “Russia and China are both seeking to drive a wedge in our transatlantic solidarity.”
According to an EU-US draft summit statement seen by Reuters news agency and still being negotiated up until the end of the gathering, Washington and Brussels will commit to ending another dispute over punitive tariffs related to steel and aluminium.
US Trade Representative Katherine Tai discussed the aircraft dispute in her first face-to-face meeting with EU counterpart Valdis Dombrovskis before the US-EU summit. The pair are due to speak on Tuesday afternoon.
Freezing the trade conflicts gives both sides more time to focus on broader agendas such as concerns over China’s state-driven economic model, diplomats said.
Biden and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken earlier met Belgian King Philippe, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes in Brussels’ royal palace. On Wednesday, he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.
The summit draft statement to be released at the end of the meeting said they had “a chance and a responsibility to help people make a living and keep them safe, fight climate change, and stand up for democracy and human rights”.
There are no firm new transatlantic pledges on climate in the draft summit statement, however, and both sides will steer clear of setting a date to stop burning coal.
The EU and the US are the world’s top trading powers, along with China, but Trump sought to sideline the EU.
After scotching a free-trade agreement with the EU, the Trump administration focused on shrinking a growing US deficit in goods trade. Biden, however, sees the EU as an ally in promoting free trade, as well as in fighting climate change and ending the COVID-19 pandemic.