According to IMF data from 2016, the US and EU are each other’s top export market and second source of imports after China. Both the European Union and United States generally offer reciprocally open access to each other's exports. American exports to Europe are subject to duties averaging 3.0 percent close to the 2.4 percent average the United States imposes on European goods and services. According to the World Trade Organization, however, in 2016 the US imposed minimum import duties of 3.5 percent while the equivalent rate in the European Union was 5.2 percent.


In recent years, the EU has had a small trade in services surplus with the US and had a surplus of around €115.3 billion in trade in goods in 2016. There is “no golden rule in economics or in business that says the trade in each product between each pair of nations must be balanced.

Auto Industry

US autos face duties of 10 percent while European cars are subject to duties of only 2.5 percent in the United States. However, within the auto sector, the United States puts a 25 percent duty on imports of trucks and pickups, significantly higher than the 14 percent duty similar European products face in America. German automakers manufacture a significant number of autos in the United States itself, including for export to other countries. For example, BMW exported $10 billion worth of cars last year to 140 countries after manufacturing them at a plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The company claims it has been the biggest US auto exporter by value since 2011. German automaker Mercedes-Benz says it produced 286,000 vehicles at its Tuscaloosa, Alabama plant for export to 135 markets in 2017.

Prohibitive tariffs 

About half of products exchanged face no duties at either end. Still, some products face very high, if not prohibitive tariffs. US cigarette cartons face import duties of 74.9 percent. Other goods, and agricultural produce in particular, also see high tariffs, such as carrots at 13.6 percent. US olive oil imports from Europe are taxed at only $34 per ton. It has a stinging 164 percent duty on European peanuts while the equivalent US product faces duties of only 1.8 percent in Europe. European exports of shoes (48 percent) and textiles (12 percent) also face much higher tariffs than similar US goods do on arrival in Europe. Pointing to a few highly taxed exports, while ignoring the much larger array of goods and services that are subject to lower duties, gives an inaccurate picture of the general tariff situation.


VAT for sales within the EU ranges from 17 to 27 percent, but is not added to EU exports outside of the bloc. The idea is that those products/services would have VAT added where they are sold/consumed. However, the US has no federal VAT and some states have sale taxes ranging from just one to six percent. The tax system in the EU is very complex, as it is in the US—it’s arguable this complexity can make doing business (especially across borders) more costly in terms of having to file paperwork and learn procedures and rules.


The European market has a big regulatory framework determining the price of goods. The US had long had concerns about barriers to exporting genetically modified foods and other key agricultural goods to Europe, where safety regimes differed. However outside of agriculture, both EU and US trade regimes are “generally liberal.”

Non-tariff barriers 

In addition to import duties, there are non-tariff trade barriers such as phytosanitary conditions that can mean some goods are barred from importation. Such questions were at the heart of talks to establish the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. At the time, Washington hoped to use the talks to break European resistance to US imports of agricultural goods such as GMO crops, hormone-treated beef or chlorine-washed chicken.

Final Note

It is hard to see how the EU’s policies can be  seen as “very unfair” on the US.

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