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EU welcomes boost in US soybean imports

Brussels - The United States now accounts for almost three quarters of EU soybean imports, the European Commission has announced, in a show of willingness to tackle trade tensions ahead of a visit to Washington by the bloc's top trade official.

Little progress

Trade relations between Brussels and Washington have been strained since US President Donald Trump raised tariffs on steel and aluminium imports last year, while threatening a similar move against the EU automotive sector.

In July, Trump met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker with a view to smoothing over the trade spat. They pledged, among other things, to "work to reduce barriers and increase trade" in areas including soybeans.

There has since been little progress on the overall trade relationship, however.

The positive trade agenda

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom is due to meet her US counterpart Robert Lighthizer for a new round of talks under a format established by Trump and Juncker in July.

"The idea is to carry further the positive trade agenda agreed by the two presidents," said commission spokesman Daniel Rosario, noting that everything agreed in the July statement was on the table.

Trump and Juncker had agreed at the time to aim for zero tariffs on non-auto industrial goods and reduce barriers in services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and medical products.

But it is not yet clear what would be included in the negotiations, Malmstrom told dpa last month.

"The Americans have not been very keen on starting the process to figure that out, the so-called scoping," she said at the time, noting that she hoped to have a clearer idea after this week's talks.

Following their bilateral talks, the two officials will meet with their Japanese counterpart to discuss unfair trade practices, with the spotlight on China.

Successful trade cooperation

Soybean sales have been held up as an example of successful EU-US trade cooperation, despite the fact that the increase in US imports has been largely attributed to lower prices.

Since July, US soybean imports to the EU have more than doubled compared to the same period in 2017, the commission has announced.

In the coming weeks, the EU's executive expects sign-off on a proposal to authorize US soybeans for the production of biofuels, a move that is bound to further boost US imports, the commission said in a statement.

The EU imports around 14 million tons of soybeans annually for livestock feed and milk production. Most imports previously came from Brazil.