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November 21, 2018 11:00 AM, EST

German Auto CEOs Invited for White House Talks

Donald Trump Al Drago/Bloomberg News

The Trump administration has invited the CEOs of three German automakers for talks at the White House as European and U.S. government officials try to negotiate a new trade agreement, according to people familiar with the matter.

President Donald Trump is planning to meet with the chief executives of BMW AG, Daimler AG and Volkswagen AG after the Nov. 22 Thanksgiving holiday, one source said on condition of anonymity because the deliberations are private. The executives are consulting with the German government in Berlin before their meeting with Trump administration officials, according to the sources

White House communications staff didn’t respond to a request for comment.

For the U.S. president, the talks could be a way to push the European Union toward a broader trade deal. Discussions between Washington and Brussels have bogged down recently as the U.S. threatens tariffs on auto imports and the EU warns of imposing a digital services tax that could hit technology companies from Apple Inc. to Amazon.com.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom was in Washington last week to discuss a limited free-trade agreement with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Those talks mainly are focused on regulatory cooperation and do not deal with tariffs on autos.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom (Dario Pignatelli/Bllomberg News)

Trump decided last week to hold off on imposing auto tariffs, but U.S. officials made clear to their European counterparts that the truce might not hold much longer if they fail to deliver in the trade talks with the White House, two of the people said.

VW, Daimler and BMW executives are discussing the possible meeting at the White House, but any initiative would be closely coordinated with the German government and EU officials in charge of the trade negotiations, according to people familiar with the matter.

A Daimler spokesman said that the company appreciates dialog with the U.S. government but that there is no confirmed meeting. A BMW spokesman said that the company can’t confirm that an official invitation has been received and that there are no travel plans to attend such a meeting. A VW spokesman said that the manufacturer is constantly in talks with political decision makers and would welcome efforts toward a trade agreement.

“It could be a step in the right direction in terms of mediation” between European automakers and the Trump administration, Arndt Ellinghorst, a London-based analyst at Evercore ISI, said in a note to clients. “Although likely with heavily one-sided demands from Trump,” he added.

Germany’s trade surplus with the United States has been a target of Trump’s complaints about imbalances in the global economy. Volkswagen makes the Passat sedan and Atlas SUV in Tennessee, BMW builds its X line of SUVs in South Carolina, and Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz produces the C-Class sedan and GLS and GLE SUVs in Alabama.