WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The European Union’s top trade official has canceled plans to visit the United States and Canada next week as concerns escalate about the fast-spreading coronavirus, two EU officials said on Wednesday.
EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan had been scheduled to give speeches in Washington on Monday and Tuesday and meet in Ottawa on Wednesday with 12 other members of the World Trade Organization trying to work out plans to reform the Geneva-based trade body.
“The trip is canceled,” said one of the EU officials.
Hogan, who previously served as the EU’s farm chief, said last week that Washington and Brussels were taking slow, small steps toward a “mini” trade deal. He has made resetting strained EU-U.S. economic relations a top priority.
He withdrew from a U.S. Chamber of Commerce conference on transatlantic trade where he and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow were due to make separate appearances, and a speech on the EU’s ideas for reforming the WTO at Georgetown University on Tuesday.
The decision came as Washington considered issuing potential new restrictions on travelers from some European countries.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Chamber said it would postpone the “Transatlantic Business Works Summit” after the withdrawal of key participants.
The number of U.S. coronavirus cases has risen steadily and has affected almost three-quarters of U.S. states. More than 1,100 cases and 32 deaths have been reported, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Canada said on Tuesday it had canceled the March 18 meeting of the “Ottawa Group” that is trying to reform WTO rules in the face of U.S. actions that threaten to paralyze the body. [nL1N2B42RU]
The EU, China and 15 other WTO members agreed in January to create a temporary mechanism to settle trade disputes after U.S. moves to block the appointment of trade judges left the WTO with no mechanism to act as the umpire of global trade.
(Reporting by David Lawder and Andrea Shalal in Washington; with additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottaw; Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney)