Juncker plans Trump visit as EU unites on tariffs

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will visit Washington at the end of July in a bid ease trade tensions after EU leaders pledged to react firmly against protectionism.

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Juncker, whose Commission coordinates trade policy for the 28 EU members, said he had accepted an invitation from U.S. President Donald Trump and would visit on July 24 or later.

“We should de-dramatize these relations,” he added. “We need these relations. The U.S. needs these relations. I am not sure we will find an agreement between the U.S. and the European Union but we’ll try,” he told a news conference after a summit of EU leaders.

Earlier, those leaders agreed that the U.S. import tariffs imposed on EU steel and aluminum could not be justified and supported the European Commission’s legal challenge and the duties set on U.S. products.

“The EU must respond to all actions of a clear protectionist nature,” the leaders said in written conclusions to their meeting.

The conclusions backed by the leaders said Europe would continue to negotiate ambitious free trade agreements with partners - after provisional deals struck in the past 12 months with Japan and Mexico.

The bloc is still seeking a trade deal with the Mercosur group of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay and will start talks in July with Australia and New Zealand.

However, there were also lines showing the European Union wants to protect its own industries and retain technologies in the face of what it sees as unfair competition.

Chinese companies are the chief target of EU measures to counter dumping and unfair subsidies, although the leaders did not mention China in their joint text.

The European Commission last year proposed that it should be allowed to scrutinize foreign investments amid rising concern about Chinese acquisitions on the continent.

The European Parliament, which wants tougher screening, and the 28 member states, many of whom favor a lighter touch, have agreed common positions ahead of negotiations with each other expected to start next month and last at least until the end of 2018.

The EU leaders called for a legislative proposal to be adopted as soon as possible.

The European Union countries have also committed themselves to driving reform of the World Trade Organization to ensure trade is both free and fair.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, Alissa de Carbonnel and Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek