BRUSSELS - The European Union’s top officials will meet the leaders of China and Japan next week to improve ties in the face of fears that U.S. President Donald Trump will spark an all-out global trade war.
The trip by EU Council President Donald Tusk and Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker includes the signing of a free trade deal with Japan. The signing was moved from Brussels last week after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe turned around to deal with deadly floods at home.
Their Asian tour comes as the EU — which, with 28 countries and 500 million people is the world’s biggest single market — tries to forge alliances in the face of the protectionism espoused by Trump’s “America First” administration.
European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the “landmark” Japan deal was “the biggest ever negotiated by the European Union.”
“This agreement will create an open trade zone covering nearly a third of the world’s GDP,” Schinas added.
In China on Monday, the two leaders will meet with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang to discuss their shared tensions with Washington, both having recently announced new tariffs on U.S. goods in retaliation for measures imposed by Trump. They are expected to reaffirm their support for the rules-based international order, including the World Trade Organization, which faces unprecedented criticism from Trump.
The leaders will also discuss climate change — another area on which the EU is in disagreement with Trump after he pulled out of the Paris climate deal — and nuclear issues in North Korea and Iran, Schinas said.
But the EU and China will have to smooth over existing differences on Beijing’s own restrictive market practices, including the “dumping” of cheap Chinese imports, especially steel. Some of those concerns are shared by Washington.
The EU recently pushed through measures targeting China that were intended to offset the consequences of granting China so-called market economy status at the WTO, which will make it more difficult to prove and punish illegal trade practices by Beijing.
In Tokyo, talks will also focus on presenting a united front against the United States over its tariffs, with the Japanese government having slammed them as “extremely deplorable.”
The EU-Japan deal was hailed recently as a “strong signal to the world” against U.S. protectionism by EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who is traveling with Juncker and Tusk to Asia. Abe was originally due to come to Brussels to sign the deal last week, but called off the trip after flooding and landslides in Japan killed more than 200 people.
Given the “tragic circumstances,” Tusk said they would move the summit to Tokyo.
Schinas confirmed Juncker would stick to his “very demanding agenda” and go on the trip to Asia despite suffering from a painful condition that made him stumble repeatedly at a NATO summit in Brussels last week.
The EU spokesman denied “insulting” suggestions that Juncker was drunk.