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Germany's Altmaier confident EU can limit transatlantic tensions

German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier wears a protective mask as he arrives for a meeting with the leadership of the conservative CDU/CSU parliamentary group, in Berlin, Germany September 2, 2020. Tobias Schwarz/Pool via REUTERS

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - German economy minister Peter Altmaier expressed confidence on Thursday that the United States and European Union could resolve trade difficulties, notably a dispute over aircraft subsidies, with some fresh signs of an easing of transatlantic tensions.

Altmaier, speaking to the trade committee of the European Parliament, said a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and former European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker in July 2018 had largely prevented an escalation of tensions, but not solved all problems.

The two parties have a long-running dispute over subsidies for Boeing and its European rival Airbus. The World Trade Organization gave the United States the right last year to hit the EU with tariffs on $7.5 billion of EU products and is set to determine EU retaliation rights in the coming weeks.

Altmaier said both sides had an interest in resolving their differences over these subsidies, adding the European Union had put forward proposals for doing so.

“I am, as before, confident that it will be possible to avoid a great escalation. If our partner does not want this, then we will naturally protect European interests,” he said.

Altmaier referred to talks he had had with former trade commissioner Phil Hogan, who sorted out a mini trade deal with the United States to remove duties on U.S. lobsters before his resignation over a trip to Ireland.

“We will continue these talks with all the necessary seriousness. There are the first positive signals and we hope that we can strengthen them,” Altmaier said.

The EU is still subject to U.S. tariffs on imported steel and aluminium, but Washington has not so far carried through a threat to impose tariffs on EU cars. The two sides are also in dispute over EU plans to tax digital services companies.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, Editing by William Maclean

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