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EU Trade Chief Malmstrom Signals Optimism About US Trade Deal

European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom sounded an upbeat note about the prospect of a trans-Atlantic trade deal as the bloc tries to keep at bay the threat of much-dreaded U.S. automotive tariffs.

Malmstrom, seeking a green light from EU governments for negotiations with the U.S. to cut tariffs on industrial goods, said such a limited accord would be less politically controversial than any sweeping agreement.

A plan before the 2016 election of U.S. President Donald Trump for a broad trans-Atlantic trade pact remains in the “freezer,” she said on Thursday.

“A smaller trade agreement that would only focus on industrial goods—that, I think, would be feasible,” Malmstrom told an audience in Bucharest, where the 28-nation EU’s trade ministers are due to discuss the matter on Friday. “It’s a limited agreement that we could do quite quickly if member states agree on that.”

Europe is rushing to show progress in enacting a political accord reached at the White House seven months ago to work toward reducing trans-Atlantic market barriers including industrial tariffs.

The pact last July put on hold the threat of U.S. tariffs on EU cars and auto parts based on the same national-security grounds that Trump invoked to hit foreign steel and aluminum with duties. Those levies prompted tit-for-tat retaliation by the EU, which has vowed to act in a similar fashion should the U.S. apply automotive levies.

Last month, Malmstrom unveiled a blueprint for a free-trade deal with the U.S. that would cut tariffs on a wide range of industrial goods including cars. It is that proposal that EU trade ministers will debate on Friday in the Romanian capital.