US lobster exports will enter Europe tariff-free, as Washington and Brussels announced a limited trade deal that will be seen as a first result in efforts to de-escalate trade tensions.

The joint announcement by US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan came as surprise with a number of trade feuds still brewing between both sides.

"We intend for this package of tariff reductions to mark just the beginning of a process that will lead to additional agreements that create more free, fair, and reciprocal transatlantic trade," they said in a statement.

Transatlantic trade tensions exploded in 2017 when President Donald Trump followed through on his protectionist agenda, slapping tariffs on steel and aluminium exports from Europe and other partners.

Matters only grew worse from there, with a decades-long battle over subsidies for Airbus and Boeing also leading to tit-for-tat tariff exchanges.

A campaign by European nations to apply a digital tax on US tech giants has also drawn threats of duties on European exports including French wine.

But the biggest fear was that Trump would deliver on his threats to slap tariffs on European car exports, most notable from Germany, the EU's biggest economy.

"We see this as a first step in de-escalation of ongoing EU-US disagreements," said an EU source.

The deal announced on Friday is very limited in scope and would mainly apply to US lobster exports which would now land in European dinner plates with zero tariffs. 

EU tariffs on US lobster had been eight percent, and exports to the EU were about $111 million in 2017.

In return, the EU would see tariffs slashed by half on a series of items worth an average annual trade value of $160 million.

These included certain prepared meals, crystal glass, as well as cigarette lighters.

Trump has put heavy pressure to clinch the zero-tariff lobster deal, especially after the EU entered a trade deal with Canada which also exports the shellfish.

A request by the US for a deal on lobsters had been rejected by the EU last year, with Brussels insisting on a broader package.

The tariff reductions are retroactive to begin August 1, the statement said.