Trump forced to clarify Europe travel restriction over cargo claim

Donald Trump was forced to clarify that the sweeping restrictions on travel from many parts of Europe to the US he announced on Wednesday evening did not include cargo, after causing confusion and alarm during his primetime address to Americans about the coronavirus outbreak.  The initial comment from the US president that freight would be part of the restrictions had triggered anxiety among business lobbyists and foreign officials in Washington, who feared that transatlantic commerce would come to a halt, exacerbating the hit to the global economy from the disease.  “These prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval,” Mr Trump had said in his remarks. “Anything coming from Europe to the United States is what we are discussing.” 

But shortly after concluding his statement, the US president went on social media to make amends and correct the record.  “Please remember, very important for all countries & businesses to know that trade will in no way be affected by the 30-day restriction on travel from Europe. The restriction stops people not goods,” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter.

In the presidential proclamation that accompanied Mr Trump’s action to restrict travellers from parts of Europe, the US president also suggested that trade would be unaffected. “The free flow of commerce between the United States and the [26] Schengen Area countries remains an economic priority for the United States, and I remain committed to facilitating trade between our nations,” he wrote.

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However, it is unclear is how European ships or aircraft carrying goods across the Atlantic will be treated once they get to the US.  The uncertainty over Mr Trump’s intentions on trade with Europe contributed to the negative verdict to his speech by investors, who initially pushed US equity futures sharply lower.

The coronavirus health crisis exploded just as officials in Washington and Brussels were in talks to try to reach a limited deal that could ease some trade tensions across the Atlantic Ocean after three years of sparring.

But the travel restrictions imposed by Mr Trump, amid rampant fears of economic damage and market turmoil from both sides, could complicate the negotiations and make it harder for a compromise to be reached.

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