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Mnuchin 'very hopeful' on trade talks with EU, Japan

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is "very hopeful" the US can make progress brokering separate free trade deals with the European Union and Japan during a weekend summit in Buenos Aires.

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Donna Borak
(CNN) — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is "very hopeful" the US can make progress brokering separate free trade deals with the European Union and Japan during a weekend summit in Buenos Aires.

"I'm encouraged by the EU's trade agreement with Japan," Mnuchin said Saturday in an interview with CNN at the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in Argentina.

The EU and Japan signed a massive trade deal earlier this week, cutting or eliminating tariffs on nearly all goods. The deal is in contrast to escalating trade disputes between the US and several of its major allies, including the European Union.

Related: EU and Japan sign trade deal covering a third of the world's economy

The EU-Japan agreement, which covers 600 million people and almost a third of the global economy, will remove tariffs on European exports such as cheese and wine. It will also reduce barriers on Japanese automakers and electronic firms in the European Union.

President Donald Trump has imposed tariffs on a range of foreign goods from Europe, Canada, Mexico and other trading partners, and is threatening even more action.

Mnuchin said he is still reviewing the details of the EU-Japan agreement, but stressed that any free trade deal with the EU would have to go beyond cutting tariffs on goods.

"This has to be about dropping non-tariff barriers and subsidies as well. This has to be a deal with its entirety," he said.

Related: Treasury's Mnuchin: 'I don't think we're in a trade war'

The Trump administration has been urging the European Union to lower their trade barriers to reach an agreement. But talks between the two countries stalled after President Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, saying the move was needed to protect US national security. He's also threatened to do the same on auto imports.

EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström said last month that Europe was willing to lower some of its tariffs and cooperate with the United States. But the Trump administration "closed the door" on the talks after slapping tariffs on the EU. The 28-member bloc has also has responded with its own retaliatory tariffs on American goods such as bourbon whiskey and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Next week, Trump is hosting European Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker at the White House to continue trade talks, including the possibility of averting import tariffs on European automakers. The secretary said he is "looking forward" to those discussions.

At the G20 meeting, Mnuchin will be holding a number of bilateral meetings with counterparts, including Japan's finance minister Taro Aso to discuss trade and other issues, he said.

Related: EU trade official: US 'closed the door' on tariff talks

The secretary has been caught in the cross hairs of escalating trade tensions as he meets global counterparts. The Trump administration continues to take steps to ratchet up pressure on the EU and China.

The United States has imposed a 25% tariff on $34 billion worth of China's exports. China has retaliated in kind. Another $16 billion in tariffs on China are set to take effect this month.

This week, Trump accused both Europe and China of artificially weakening their currencies. He also said he's "ready to go" with $500 billion in tariffs on Beijing.

Mnuchin, who has led the talks with China, said "anytime that China is willing to seriously negotiate, we're available."

The secretary has previously told lawmakers talks with Beijing had "broken down," and has refrained from saying how the stalemate might end.

"There are issues that need to be resolved," said Mnuchin.

"If we're successful in making changes in China, that's good for us, that's good for Europe, that's good for the global economy," said Mnuchin.

--CNN's Alanna Petroff and Ivana Kottasová contributed to this report

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