G-20 Leaders Pledge to End Financing for Overseas Coal Plants – Watch Live

G-20 leaders meeting in Rome have agreed to work to reach carbon neutrality “by around mid-century” and pledged to end financing for coal plants abroad by the end of this year.

The final communique was issued Sunday at the end of a two-day summit, ahead of talks at ahead of a broader U.N. climate change summit, COP26, this week in Glasgow, Scotland.

Leaders in Rome addressed efforts to reach the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with a global commitment made in 2015 at the Paris Climate Accord to keep global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and preferably to 1.5 degrees.

“We recognize that the impacts of climate change at 1.5°C are much lower than at 2°C. Keeping 1.5°C within reach will require meaningful and effective actions and commitment by all countries,” the communique said, according to Reuters.

The group of 19 countries and the European Union account for more than three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Two dozen countries this month have joined a U.S.- and EU-led effort to slash methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030.

Coal, though, is a bigger point of contention. G-20 members China and India have resisted attempts to produce a declaration on phasing out domestic coal consumption.

Climate financing, namely pledges from wealthy nations to provide $100 billion a year in climate financing to support developing countries’ efforts to reduce emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change, is another key concern. Indonesia, a large greenhouse gas emitter that will take over the G-20 presidency in December, is urging developed countries to fulfill their financing commitments both in Rome and in Glasgow.

Also on Sunday, the U.S. and EU announced an end to tariffs on EU steel imposed by the Trump administration, ending a dispute in which the EU imposed retaliatory tariffs on American products including whiskey and power boats.

 

“Together the United States and the European Union are ushering in a new era of transatlantic cooperation that’s going to benefit all of our people both now, and I believe, in the years to come,” Biden told reporters on the sidelines of the G-20 summit. 

Global supply chain 

Watch a Press Conference by President Biden:

 

Biden will hold a meeting at the summit’s sidelines to address the global supply chain crisis. The group of 20 countries in the summit account for more than 80% of world GDP and 75% of global trade. 

“The President will make announcements about what the United States itself will do, particularly in respect to stockpiles, to improving… the United States’ capacity to have modern and effective and capable and flexible stockpiles,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told VOA aboard Air Force One en route to Rome, Thursday. “We are working towards agreement with the other participants on a set of principles and parameters around how we collectively manage and create resilient supply chains going forward.”

Addressing global commerce disruptions has been a key focus for the Biden administration, which is concerned that these bottlenecks will hamper post-pandemic economic recovery. To address the nation’s own supply chain issues, earlier this month the administration announced a plan to extend operations around the clock, seven days a week, at Los Angeles and Long Beach, two ports that account for 40% of sea freight entering the country. 

“Whether it’s you’re talking about medical equipment or supplies of consumer goods or other products, it’s a challenge for the global economy,” said Matthew Goodman, senior vice president for economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Some of the concrete measures to alleviate global supply chain pressure points may need to be longer term, such as shortening supply chains and rethinking dependencies, said Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the U.S. and the Americas program at Chatham House.

“Those are not quick fixes,” she said. “But the G-20 is historically set up really to be dealing with short-term crises. So, I think that there will be considerable effort made to really discuss and come to terms with that.” 

While global supply chain issues are a key concern for the leaders in Rome, Goodman said he doubts the meeting will result in tangible solutions. 

“It’s a very difficult group — the G-20 to get consensus to do very specific things. And this may be one area in which it’s going to be particularly difficult,” he added. 

President Xi Jinping of China, considered to be the “world’s factory,” is not attending the summit in person. In his virtual speech to G-20 leaders, Xi proposed holding an international forum on resilient and stable industrial and supply chains, and welcomed participation of G-20 members and relevant international organizations. 

G-20 Gets Climate Agreement, But Activists Fear Deal Not Big Enough

Pope Francis called on world leaders Sunday to hear “the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor,” while urging them to develop efficient responses to global warming and give hope to younger generations.

The pope made his appeal in Rome, where leaders attended their first in-person G-20 summit since the coronavirus pandemic swept the planet. The politicians, however, struggled to secure a climate breakthrough, a likely harbinger of the difficulties a United Nations climate change summit in Glasgow, Scotland will face in the coming days, some diplomatic observers warn. The Glasgow event, known as COP26, runs from October 31 through November 12.

The G-20 leaders from the world’s major economies finally agreed on a communique closely mirroring pledges made in Paris in 2015, namely, to “hold the global average temperature increase well below 2° C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels.”

After all-night wrangling by officials, there were no agreed concrete steps on how to do this, to the disappointment of some climate action campaigners. They did strike agreement on developed countries ending public funding of coal-fired power stations in developing nations, a key aim of the Biden administration; but they did not set a target for phasing out public financing of coal production by governments in their own countries, something China and India oppose.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, the G-20 summit host, urged his fellow leaders in the final hours of the two-day event in Rome to set both long and short-term goals. “We also need to make sure that we use available resources wisely, which means that we should become able to adapt our technologies and also our lifestyles to this new world,” he said.

Draghi had hoped to get a commitment on the specific target date of 2050 to achieve net zero carbon emissions — a deadline scientists say is vital to stave off disastrous climate change and disruption. But in their final document ahead of the COP26 talks, G-20 leaders agreed on climate neutrality “by or around mid-century.”

The G-20 countries, which produce around three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, also agreed to scale up their commitment to provide $100 billion annually to help poorer countries cope with the impact of climate change and to adapt to changing weather. In 2009, wealthy governments agreed to increase climate financing for vulnerable countries to $100 billion annually by 2020. Under the Paris climate agreement, they said they would negotiate a higher amount that would kick in from 2025. They have so far not reached the $100 billion goal.

Britain’s Prince Charles addressed the G-20 Sunday morning and urged leaders to listen to young people who are inheriting the warming Earth, warning, “It is quite literally the last-chance saloon.”

A longtime environmental activist, Charles said public-private partnerships were the only way to achieve the trillions of dollars in annual investment needed to transition to clean energy sources.

Officials at the G-20 summit, though, said they believe the gathering had achieved enough to maintain momentum going into COP26. “The decisions we are making today will have a direct impact on the success of COP26 and our ability to address the climate crisis,” Draghi told the attendees.

Climate activists said they remained disappointed by the G-20 meeting. In a BBC interview Sunday, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg complained of world leaders making climate statements “because it makes them popular, it makes them sound good.”

Thunberg was speaking as the first of 25,000 diplomats, climate activists, scientists and politicians from nearly 200 countries started arriving in Glasgow Sunday for COP26. Alok Sharma, the president of the COP26 climate summit, called on global leaders to “banish ghosts of the past” and step up with new pledges to lower emissions.

Sharma told British broadcasters he could not say with certainty that the two-week gathering would end with a deal to keep alive the prospect of maintaining a global average temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius.

“We know from the IPCC [the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] that we are already at global warming of 1.1C above pre-industrial levels. At 1.5C, there will be countries in the world that will be under water and that’s why we need to get an agreement here on how we tackle climate change over the next decade,” he said.

British officials say they expect a fierce debate at COP26 among advanced and developing nations over the funding poor countries say they should get to help them introduce green technologies needed to replace their coal- and oil-burning power stations. Arab states are also expected to come under pressure over continued drilling for oil.

Abdulla Shahid, president of the United Nations General Assembly, told COP26 delegates in Glasgow Sunday, “We are facing an existential crisis. We are simply not doing enough. We must be honest about this with ourselves, with each other and with the rest of the world.”

British officials say they hope to get an early groundbreaking deal on stopping the destruction of the world’s forests — an agreement that would see poor nations paid not to fell trees and developed nations halting the importing of food grown on illegally cleared land. “We are seeking to get an agreement to halt the loss of forestry around the world by 2030 and get as many countries as possible committed to that,” according to George Eustice, Britain’s environment minister.

Eustice told reporters in London that success is within reach with dozens of countries already agreeing to sign up in what could be one of the big surprises from the summit. He told The Times newspaper that on Tuesday he hopes British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be able to announce a historic agreement on deforestation. Details, however, are still being debated. “We think we’ve done really well to get good engagement,” Eustice said. “But it’s not in the bag.” 

Biden Meets Erdogan amid Simmering Tensions

White House officials say U.S. President Joe Biden had “very constructive talks” with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Rome Sunday amid simmering tensions and strategic disagreements between Washington and Ankara.

“The President made clear his desire to have constructive relations with Turkey and to find an effective way to manage our disagreements,” a senior Biden administration told reporters.

The official said topics of discussion included Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, the South Caucuses, climate, human rights as well as Turkey’s request to purchase U.S. F-16 fighter jets.

On the subject of the jets, Biden was “very clear that there was a process underway that we had to go through,” the official said.

In 2019, during former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, the Pentagon kicked Turkey out of the F-35 program because of its purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems. Now Ankara wants to buy 40 F-16 fighter jets made by U.S. company Lockheed Martin and nearly 80 modernization kits for its air force’s existing warplanes.

U.S. lawmakers have urged the Biden administration not to sell F-16s to Turkey, saying Ankara has “behaved like an adversary.”

“This meeting is important for President Biden to send some messages to Turkey about what is and is not acceptable behavior from a NATO ally,” said Rachel Ellehuus, deputy director of the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She said Biden will convey his expectations for Turkey as a partner in a range of issues including security challenges following U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, its role in the Black Sea region and performance in NATO.

Bilateral relations between the two NATO allies have also been strained over human rights. As president, Biden has pledged to restore human rights and democracy as pillars of U.S. foreign policy. In August of last year, before taking office, then-Democratic presidential candidate Biden advocated for a new U.S. approach to the “autocrat” Erdogan. Ankara slammed the comment as “interventionist.”

Since then, the two leaders have taken a more pragmatic approach to maintaining a relationship. Biden is keen to avoid another escalating flashpoint in the region following the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, while Erdogan is embattled politically at home.

“The Turkish economy is faltering, he [Erdogan] is actually losing in popularity,” Ellehuus said. “Whether he’ll admit it or not, I think he needs to be perceived as having at least a cooperative relationship with President Biden.”

This is the second in-person discussion between the leaders under the Biden presidency, following a June meeting in Brussels, on the sidelines of the NATO summit.

UK, France Urged to Cool Down Escalating Fishing Spat

Britain and France faced calls Saturday to sort out their post-Brexit spat over fishing rights in the English Channel, which threatens to escalate within days into a damaging French blockade of British boats and trucks.

French President Emmanuel Macron warned that the dispute is testing the U.K.’s international credibility, while each country accused the other of being in breach of the post-Brexit trade agreement that Britain’s government signed with the European Union before it left the bloc.

As the war of words intensified, Britain said it was “actively considering” launching legal action if France goes through with threats to bar U.K. fishing boats from its ports and slap strict checks on British catches.

“If there is a breach of the (Brexit) treaty or we think there is a breach of the treaty then we will do what is necessary to protect British interests,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told British broadcasters in Rome, where he and Macron are both attending a Group of 20 summit.

At stake is fishing — a tiny industry economically that looms large symbolically for maritime nations like Britain and France. Britain’s exit from the economic rules of the 27-nation bloc at the start of this year means the U.K. now controls who fishes in its waters.

France claims some vessels have been denied permits to fish in waters where they have long sailed. Britain says it has granted 98% of applications from EU vessels, and now the dispute comes down to just a few dozen French boats with insufficient paperwork.

But France argues it’s a matter of principle and wants to defend its interests as the two longtime allies and rivals set out on a new, post-Brexit relationship.

The dispute escalated this week after French authorities accused a Scottish-registered scallop dredger of fishing without a license. The captain was detained in Le Havre and has been told to face a court hearing next year.

France has threatened to block British boats crossing the English Channel and tighten checks on boats and trucks from Tuesday if the licenses aren’t granted. France has also suggested it might restrict energy supplies to the Channel Islands — British Crown dependencies that lie off the coast of France and are heavily dependent on French electricity.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex appealed to the EU to back France in the dispute, saying the bloc should demonstrate to people in Europe that “leaving the Union is more damaging than remaining in it.”

U.K. Brexit Minister David Frost called Castex’s comments “troubling” and accused France of a pattern of threats “to our fishing industry, to energy supplies, and to future cooperation.”

He said if France acted on the threats it “would put the EU in breach of its obligations under our trade agreement,” and said Britain was “actively considering launching dispute settlement proceedings,” a formal legal process in the deal.

He urged France and the EU to “step back.”

Many EU politicians and officials regard Frost, who led negotiations on Britain’s divorce deal, as intrinsically hostile to the bloc.

Macron, who is scheduled to meet Johnson on Sunday on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, defended France’s position and said the fishing dispute could hurt Britain’s reputation worldwide.

“Make no mistake, it is not just for the Europeans but all of their partners,” Macron told the Financial Times. “Because when you spend years negotiating a treaty and then a few months later you do the opposite of what was decided on the aspects that suit you the least, it is not a big sign of your credibility.”

Macron said he was sure that Britain has “good will” to solve the dispute. “We need to respect each other and respect the word that has been given,” he said.

Johnson said the fishing issue was a distraction from fighting climate change — top of the G-20 leaders’ agenda at their meeting, which comes before a U.N. climate conference in Scotland next week.

“I am looking at what is going on at the moment and I think that we need to sort it out. But that is quite frankly small beer, trivial, by comparison with the threat to humanity that we face,” Johnson added.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president and chairman of the northern French ports of Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer, said the spat was “ridiculous” and urged both sides to resolve it.

He told BBC radio that the dispute was over just 40 boats — “a drop in the ocean” — and that there would be “terrible” consequences if France carried out its threat of blocking British trawlers from French ports.

“If no agreement can be found, it will be a drama, it will be a disaster in your country because the trucks will not cross,” he said. 

 

European MPs Meet with Taiwan Envoy Despite China Risks

As Taiwan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Joseph Wu made an unprecedented trip to Brussels on Friday, it remained unclear whether Europe will face repercussions from China for displaying closer ties with the self-ruled East Asian island claimed by China.

China previously imposed sanctions on EU parliamentarians after the EU sanctioned Chinese officials linked to Xinjiang, a far western Chinese province where millions of ethnic minority Muslims have been detained in internment camps.

Now, as Wu’s travels take him to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania and Belgium, it is possible China could use the same tactics again, according to Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the U.S.

“Beijing could impose sanctions on EU officials who met with Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu. It could also postpone a planned meeting between Xi Jinping and European Council President Charles Michel, and a 27+1 meeting that has been broached,” she said, referring to a summit between China and EU leaders.

Beijing regards Taiwan as a wayward province that will one day be united with the mainland. Under Xi, Beijing has taken a more aggressive policy of squeezing Taiwan out of international space and is quickly angered when its government or officials are treated as though they are independent.

After news of Wu’s trip was reported last week, Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin urged Europe not to “undermine the political foundation of bilateral relations” with China, according to Reuters.

Undeterred, Charlie Weimers, a Swedish member of the European Parliament and its EU-Taiwan relations rapporteur, shared updates about meeting with Wu on Twitter, as did Belgian politician Els Van Hoof, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the country’s Chamber of Representatives, one of the Belgian houses of Parliament, and member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China.

 

While Wu has previously visited Europe, his meetings in the administrative capital of the EU are unprecedented. The trip comes as Taiwan publicizes its growing ties with EU member states such as Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The three countries together donated more than 850,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Taiwan after earlier receiving face masks and other medical supplies donated by Taiwan.

At the same time, Europe has become more wary of China’s expansion in the Asia-Pacific region, prompting the bloc to include China as a potential security threat in its first Indo-Pacific strategy report released this year. Germany, France and the Netherlands all have separate strategies for the region as well, which include concerns about China, while NATO is also publicly discussing the Asian superpower.

“There is a tangible push for the EU to upgrade ties with Taiwan, largely shaped by the [European Parliament],” said Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy, a doctoral research fellow at the European Union Centre in Taiwan at National Taiwan University.

The push, she added, is not for the EU to recognize Taiwanese sovereignty but instead to disconnect EU-Taiwanese cooperation from EU-China relations.

Pushing trade deal

Wu called Friday for a bilateral investment deal that could see Taiwan invest more in Europe in a speech at an Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China conference in Rome, which he attended by video link, according to Taiwanese media.

While China has major investments from Western Europe and to Serbia, Hungary and Poland, promises of large projects from China elsewhere in the Baltics, Eastern and Central Europe have not been as fruitful as some nations once hoped.

Earlier this year, Lithuania pulled out of the 17+1 regional cooperation bloc of Central and Eastern European countries, as well as Estonia and Latvia, aimed at promoting closer business ties with Beijing. China had invested on an estimated $94.7 million in Lithuania — a relatively small amount — in projects since 2015, according to findings from the Central and Eastern European Center for Asian Studies.

China halted trade with the tiny Baltic state in retaliation for its actions. China has also showcased the economic benefits of a closer relationship as seen last week in Greece, where China’s state-owned company COSCO raised its investment stake in Greece’s Piraeus Port Authority to 67%, according to Nikkei Asia.

The carrot-and-stick approach from Beijing “serves to send a message to member states who might be on the fence that there would be consequences to their ‘mistakes,'” said Ferenczy. “But it also has a domestic consideration, to show that China doesn’t allow countries, for example Lithuania, to disrespect it, but that China is generous, and its generosity is respected, for example in Greece.”

Earlier this week, however, Wu himself warned European nations to “think twice” about Chinese investments.

“If you think that you are dependent on China, your foreign policy may become skewed,” Wu told RFE/RL in an exclusive interview in Prague on Oct. 27. “If you think that you depend on China, your actions, or your policies, your behaviors need to be [cautious] because you don’t want to jeopardize your business opportunities.”

Part of Wu’s diplomatic pitch, RFE/RL reported, is to offer Taiwan as a small, open, and democratic alternative to Beijing’s authoritarian politics, “wolf warrior” tactics, and so-called “debt-trap diplomacy” that has become associated with Chinese investment across the world, from Africa to Central Asia.

For smaller countries with fewer strategic interests in China, there might be very little Beijing can do in retaliation — especially if the EU states back each other up. Lithuania, for example, is not expected to suffer major economic consequences from fewer economic links to China than a country like Poland or Serbia. 

 

 

Climate Change Threatens Russia’s Permafrost and Oil Economy

Parts of the planet that were once thought to be permanently frozen are starting to thaw – posing problems for countries like Russia where permafrost covers vast areas of its territory. The thaw is threatening Russia’s oil economy as Oleksandr Yanevskyy tells us in this report narrated by Amy Katz.
Camera: Oleksandr Yanevskyy

Day One of G-20 Summit Focuses on Global Minimum Tax, Pandemic Preparedness

The G-20 Summit hosted by Italy in Rome this weekend brought together leaders from the world’s major economies. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara has this report from Rome.

China’s Top Diplomat Visits Serbia, Albania Aiming to Deepen Ties

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made stops in Belgrade, Serbia, and Tirana, Albania, this week, seeking to further the Chinese government’s “17+1” effort to promote trade and investment between Beijing and the countries of Eastern and Central Europe.

While Wang was received cordially in both countries, Serbia and Albania have taken somewhat different approaches to economic cooperation with Beijing through China’s Belt and Road initiative, which has funded infrastructure projects throughout the developing world.

A stop in Greece on Wednesday and a scheduled stop in Italy on Saturday served as bookends to Wang’s visit to the Balkans. The trip is widely seen as China’s attempt to shore up economic ties in the region, which has traditionally looked more toward the European Union for development assistance.

Friendship ‘made of steel’

In Serbia, officials presented Wang with a building permit for a stretch of railway from Novi Sad to Subotica, part of a larger project to modernize the railroad between Belgrade and Budapest, Hungary. The move reflects Serbia’s relative openness to Chinese investment in the country.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić reiterated that Belgrade supports the “one China” policy, which considers Taiwan part of China. Wang, in turn, said Beijing respects the territorial integrity of Serbia, a signal that Beijing will continue to refuse to recognize the independence of Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Wang said the friendship between the two countries was “made of steel” and added, “Serbia is a country that has its own principles and that Beijing is proud to have such a friend.”

Vučić said that Serbia and China are implementing joint projects worth 8 billion euros ($9.3 billion) and trade between the two countries has tripled.

Large Chinese presence

According to Bojan Stanić, the assistant director for analytics at the Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in addition to 1.5 billion euros ($1.73 billion) in direct foreign investment from China in the past five years, more than 20,000 people in Serbia work in Chinese-owned companies. Additionally, more than half of the suppliers of the Smederevo Ironworks, which is owned by the Chinese HBIS Group, a Chinese state-owned enterprise, are Serbian companies.

Serbia and China have had a strategic partnership agreement since 2009 and a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement since 2016. The latter involves more high-level meetings between both country’s officials, and more extensive personnel exchanges. China is the dominant lender for road construction in Serbia. Beijing is also the owner of the Bor mining complex and the Linglong tire factory, which is under construction.

Extensive Chinese ownership of businesses in Serbia has raised concerns about compliance with environmental protection and working condition regulations in factories.

Relationship unclear

Other concerns arise from the difficulty in understanding the relationship between Chinese firms and the Chinese Communist Party’s security services.

Igor Novaković, research director at the Center for International and Security Affairs Centre – ISAC Fund, said it is not always clear where a company’s commercial interest ends and the CCP’s political interests begin.

“I do not claim that companies operating in Serbia are dangerous in themselves, but when there is a connection between politics and business, then there is a danger of using business decisions in favor of the political interests of the country from which investments come,” Novaković said.

Belgrade visit

Wang traveled from Belgrade to Tirana Thursday, ahead of Friday’s meetings with Albanian President Ilir Meta, Prime Minister Edi Rama, and Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Olta Xhaçka.

In Belgrade, officials have historically been much more cautious with regard to Chinese investment and lending.

“The truth is that serious doubts have actually been raised about Chinese funding following the experiences in some African countries and in the Balkans as the time comes for debt refinancing, that is, debt repayment and liabilities that have placed the governments of these countries in great financial difficulties,” said Selami Xhepa, an economist and a member of the Assembly of the Republic of Albania.

“This has required some kind of renegotiation, or similar diplomacy, with the Chinese authorities,” he added. “I think market discipline is better than diplomatic negotiations.”

UN Security Council

Last year, Albania joined a group of nations, headed by the United States, that has shut out Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE from providing equipment essential to the rollout of 5G wireless service in the country.

Nevertheless, with Albania about to take a seat on the United Nations Security Council, of which China is a permanent member, experts saw Wang’s visit to the country as an important opportunity to cement ties between the two countries and open dialogue about issues important to Albania. Among those issues is China’s continued effort to block the recognition of Kosovo as an independent country, which Albania supports.

“China is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and it is necessary to talk about Kosovo, about Kosovo’s accession to the United Nations, where China is a very big obstacle,” said Besnik Mustafaj, a former foreign minister of Albania who now serves as president of the Council of Albanian Ambassadors. “It is time to say that there is no parallelism between Kosovo and Taiwan, that Albania recognizes only one China.”

Ilirian Agolli of VOA’s Albanian Service and VOA’s Serbian Service contributed to this report.

US, EU End Trump-Era Steel, Aluminum Tariffs

The United States and European Union have agreed to end a festering dispute over U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by former President Donald Trump in 2018, removing an irritant in transatlantic relations and averting a spike in EU retaliatory tariffs, U.S. officials said on Saturday. 

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told reporters that the deal will maintain U.S. “Section 232” tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% aluminum, while allowing “limited volumes” of EU-produced metals into the United States duty free. 

It also ends one of the biggest areas of friction between the allies and allows them to focus on negotiating new global trade agreements to address global excess steel and aluminum capacity mainly centered in China and reduce the industries’ carbon emissions. 

U.S. officials did not specify the volume of duty-free steel to be allowed into the United States under a tariff-rate quota system agreed upon with the EU. Sources familiar with the deal, speaking on condition of anonymity, have told Reuters that annual volumes above 3.3 million tons would be subject to tariffs. 

The deal grants an additional two years of duty-free access above the quota for EU steel products that won Commerce Department exclusions in the past year, U.S. officials said. 

The deal requires EU steel and aluminum to be entirely produced in the bloc — a standard known as “melted and poured” — to qualify for duty-free status. The provision is aimed at preventing metals from China and non-EU countries from being minimally processed in Europe before export to the United States. 

“The agreement ultimately to negotiate a carbon-based arrangement on steel and aluminum trade addresses both Chinese overproduction and carbon intensity in the steel and aluminum sector,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters. “It shows that we can solve the climate crisis while at the same time better protecting our workers — that we don’t have to pick between climate or the economy.” 

President Joe Biden has sought to mend fences with European allies following Trump’s presidency to more broadly confront China’s state-driven economic practices that led to Beijing building massive excess steelmaking capacity that has flooded global markets. 

Raimondo said the deal will reduce costs for steel-consuming U.S. manufacturers. Steel prices have more than tripled in the past year to records topping $1,900 a ton as the industry has struggled to keep up with a demand surge after COVID-19 pandemic-related shutdowns, contributing to inflation. 

Europe exported around 5 million tons of steel annually to the United States before Trump’s imposition of the “Section 232” tariffs in March 2018 on national security grounds. 

The deal also eliminates Europe’s retaliatory tariffs against U.S. products including whiskey and Harley-Davidson motorcycles that were set to double on December 1, the U.S. officials said. 

The United States allows imports of steel and aluminum duty free from North American trade deal partners Mexico and Canada, with a mechanism that allows tariffs to be reimposed in the event of an unexpected surge in import volumes. 

US, Europe Focus on Iran Nuclear Program at G-20

U.S. President Joe Biden will hold talks with European leaders over the Iran nuclear program Saturday afternoon, Rome time, on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Italy, following Tehran’s announcement earlier this week that it is ready to resume negotiations before the end of November. 

Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will seek an agreement on the path to resume negotiations for a return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear agreement. The so-called E3+1 format will focus on “shared concerns about the state of Iran’s nuclear program,” the White House said.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the JCPOA deal in 2018. Biden has said the United States will rejoin once Tehran returns to full compliance with the agreement’s restrictions on nuclear weapons development.

The Saturday talks will be a “study in contrast with the previous administration, since Iran was one of the areas of most profound divergence between the previous administration and the Europeans,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Rome Thursday.

“Here you’ll see Chancellor Merkel, President Macron, Prime Minister Johnson, and President Biden all singing from the same song sheet on this issue,” he said.

However, in his first in-person meeting with these NATO allies, Biden will also have to placate lingering resentment over the chaotic August U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, which left them scrambling to get their troops and citizens out as the Taliban took over Kabul. Analysts say the allies are likely to press Biden for firm commitments of better coordination on Iran, which they did not believe was given on Afghanistan.

On Wednesday U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had ordered a full-scale review of the Afghan withdrawal. VOA asked Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre aboard Air Force One en route to Rome, Thursday, whether the announcement Afghanistan review was timed ahead of Biden’s G-20 trip. 

“I wouldn’t connect the two,” she said. “I don’t have much more to share about that.”  

Fresh sanctions

On Friday, ahead of the G-20, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions against two senior members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and two affiliated companies for supplying lethal drones and related material to insurgent groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Ethiopia.

With these sanctions Biden is signaling that his administration still has leverage and tools to pressure Tehran, said Sanam Vakil, deputy head of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House.

“Iran’s sponsorship of regional instability continues to be on Biden’s radar,” she said. 

Iran swiftly called the penalties “completely contradictory behavior.”

“A government that talks about an intention of returning to the nuclear deal but continues Trump’s policy of sanctions is sending the message that it really is not reliable,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in remarks published on the ministry’s website.

“Iran is upset but its options to hit back are limited,” said Alex Vatanka, director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute, who predicts that the sanctions will not stop Iran from returning to the negotiation table.

“It can refuse to return to the talks in Vienna but then it will increase the chances that Washington can better mobilize the international opinion against Iran as the main spoiler that is preventing a breakthrough in the nuclear talks.”

Analysts say Tehran is trying to avoid a scenario where the U.S. and Europe convince Russia and China that Iran’s nuclear program is too close to possible weaponization.  

“It’s likely Iran will return in part because Europeans – whom Iran sees as weaker than U.S. – and Russia with whom Iran does various deals, want Iran back,” said James Jeffrey, chair of the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program.

Plan B

The United States and Israel have warned that they are exploring a Plan B if Tehran does not return in good faith to salvage JCPOA.

“Time is running short,” Blinken said at a joint press conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in Washington earlier this month. “We are prepared to turn to other options if Iran doesn’t change course, and these consultations with our allies and partners are part of it.”

However, analysts say the Biden administration is unlikely to use military options nor would it greenlight the Israelis to strike. Jeffrey said the U.S. is more likely to rely on a combination of new sanctions and tougher position on Iran’s aggression in the region, alongside strategic ambiguity on military response should the talks fail.

While the Iranians do not think the Biden team has a serious military Plan B, Tehran cannot allow the nuclear stalemate to go on forever, Vatanka said. 

“One way or another, both sides – the US and Iran – need to put the brakes on this cycle of escalation,” he said.

VOA’ Anita Powell contributed to this report.