Presidents Trump and Juncker on trade

President Donald Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker discuss trade July 25 2018. View video

The Trump administration said it will seek fast-track approval from Congress for a trade deal being negotiated with the European Union, suggesting the two sides are hoping to make substantial changes to their commercial relationship.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office said Monday it will begin consultations with Congress on a trade deal with Europe under Trade Promotion Authority, a legislative tool that allows the president to seek a simple yes-or-no vote by lawmakers on a final deal. In exchange, the administration must clear a series of hurdles, such as remaining in close consultation with committees in the House and Senate that oversee trade.

The move signals talks between the U.S. and EU are going well, less than two months after they were threatening to slap tariffs on each other in what appeared to be a prelude to a damaging trade war. At the end of July, President Donald Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker agreed to work toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers and zero subsidies on industrial goods outside the auto sector, among other things.

As part of the deal, the EU agreed to buy more U.S. liquefied natural gas and soybeans. In exchange, Trump said he’d hold off on his threat of adding new tariffs on European vehicles.

The announcement Monday followed what USTR described as a constructive meeting between U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in Brussels.

The two will meet at the end of the month, while staff will hold further talks in October aimed at reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers. Lighthizer and Malmstrom will meet in November to “finalize outcomes,” USTR said in a statement.

Using fast-track authority suggests the Trump administration wants to strike a deal that could make major changes to U.S. law. Navigating the fast-track process can take months.

“USTR will begin consultations with Congress pursuant to Trade Promotion Authority to facilitate negotiations on longer-term outcomes” with Europe, the office said on Monday.

The administration invoked fast-track authority to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, but didn’t employ the tool in reaching a new trade pact with South Korea, which experts view as an incremental update to the existing accord with the Asian nation.