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Frankfurt/Rome: The European Union can help settle the burgeoning trade spat between the US and China, European Commission vice presidents Jyrki Katainen and Valdis Dombrovskis said.

Rather than participate in the dispute, the EU can leverage its role as the world’s largest market to uphold the rules of international trade and push back against unilateral tariffs like the ones backed by US President Donald Trump, the two officials said on Saturday in Bloomberg television interviews from the Ambrosetti workshop in Cernobbio, Italy.

The EU “is trying to settle down or stabilize the current situation," said Katainen, who is the bloc’s commissioner in charge of jobs and growth, stressing that there should be cooperation with both the US and China.

His colleague Dombrovskis, the commissioner in charge of the euro, said the EU’s role is not about “taking sides" but about respecting rules. “If there are trade disputes, and there are always trade disputes, solve them within the World Trade Organization."

European leaders are stepping up efforts to avert a full blown trade war between the world’s two largest economies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron will both travel to Washington this month for talks with Trump, ahead of a 1 May decision on whether Europe will continue to be exempted from US steel and aluminium tariffs.

“It’s a cause for concern," Dombrovskis said. “There shouldn’t be unilateral measures taken by countries."

But even as the bloc works to avoid any disruption in US-EU commerce, officials are concerned about the future of a multilateral order centered around the World Trade Organization and other multilateral free-trade agreements which are being threatened by Trump’s trade policies.

Still, the EU commissioners conceded that there are some real issues which need to be addressed, from China’s overcapacity in steel production to concerns about the defence of intellectual-property rights and data protection.

“It’s very right what Trump has said that the basic principle of trade should be reciprocity," Katainen said. “So we expect reciprocity from China, though we understand that it doesn’t happen overnight." Bloomberg

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