US did not coordinate, notify about travel ban, says EU diplomat

Trump says his government has been in frequent contact with US allies on the 30-day restriction. (AP pic)

WASHINGTON: The United States did not coordinate on a sweeping restriction on European travel aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus with European officials before US President Donald Trump announced it late on Wednesday, a European diplomat said.

Trump, in a televised address, said his government had been in frequent contact with US allies on the 30-day restriction, but European Union officials were not notified about the decision ahead of time, said the diplomat, who was not authorised to speak publicly.

“There was no heads-up, no coordination as the president claimed,” the diplomat said.

No comment was immediately available on the decision from the EU delegation in Washington.

Trump’s order curbing travel from Europe to the United States, except from Britain, beginning on Friday, could complicate already strained trade ties between Brussels and Washington.

EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan cancelled a scheduled visit to Washington for next week earlier on Wednesday.

After sowing confusion by suggesting that “trade and cargo” from Europe would also be banned, Trump later clarified that “trade will in no way be affected” by the restriction. In fact, the travel curbs will sharply curtail trade in services.

Trump faulted Brussels for failing to restrict travel from China, where the virus originated, a decision that he said resulted in clusters of the disease in the United States being “seeded by travellers from Europe”.

Former US State Department official Nicholas Burns faulted Trump for not mentioning any efforts to work with allies to limit the consequences of the pandemic in a tweet.

“He should close ranks to work with China, Japan, South Korea, Europe+Iran. Instead, he thinks we can dig a moat around America.”

William Reinsch, a former senior US Commerce Department official said the restrictions would be “enormously disruptive” despite the president’s clarification that cargo traffic could continue between the two huge trading partners.

The announcement would hit daily travel volume, tourism, hotels and restaurants – all of which were already suffering amid growing fear about the virus, said Reinsch, now a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Harry Broadman, a former senior US trade official and managing director with the Berkeley Research Group, said the decision could choke off trade in services between the United States and Europe, harming the fastest growing part of US international trade flows.

Trade in goods and services between the United States and the European Union totalled nearly US$1.3 trillion in 2018, with the United States posting a US$60 billion services trade surplus with the EU in 2018.