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French press review 1 June 2018

US President Donald Trump has imposed import duties on European metals. Will this lead to a trans-Atlantic trade war? How serious is the impact of American reluctance to support the Paris climate deal?


If you are in the business of selling steel to the United States, the bad news is that US President Donald Trump last night unilaterally imposed a 25 percent import tax on European producers. Aluminium got off relatively lightly but still faces a 10 percent duty. Imports of the two metals from Canada and Mexico will face the same new level of taxation.

Trump's French counterpart Emmanuel Macron has denounced the move to impose the tariffs as "illegal and mistaken". The French leader recently reminded an audience at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development that in the 1930s it was a series of trade wars which ultimately resulted in World War II. Le Monde warns that the actions of the American president raise the spectre of a trans-Atlantic commercial conflict.

Canada has already taken up the gauntlet, announcing last night the imposition of 13 billion dollars of import duty on a range of American products. The European Commission traditionally avoids any warlike metaphors but has promised to "rebalance" trans-Atlantic commercial dealings, unless the World Trade Organisation can beat Trump back into his box. Bourbon whisky, blue jeans and peanut butter are just some of the American exports that may now face additional European import duties.

Brussels is determined to follow the official rules and procedures. And that, says Le Monde, takes time.

Of which they may not have much, since Trump, apparently appalled at the number of German-made cars on New York streets, has already asked for a report on US motor imports and their impact on national security. That's exactly how the American president began his campaign against European steel and aluminium last year.

The saddest part of all this, says Le Monde, is that Trump has the wrong sow by the lug. He wants to protect the US metals sector from the impact of global overproduction. But the current steel glut is not to be blamed on Europe, or Canada, or Mexico. It's the clear fault of the Chinese. Commentators in Brussels say Trump's "stupid" targeting of minor players in the market will expose the US even more dramatically to the effects of the Chinese steel surplus.

Meanwhile, the temperature continues to rise

And while we're all warmed up for a spot of Trump-bashing, Le Monde reports that the US leader's decision to take the US out of the Paris climate deal has damaged that agreement's chances of slowing global warming to just 2°C.

Since the US is the world's largest economy and the globe's second-largest polluter, after China, American antagonism to the Cop21 agreement is a crucial setback for the deal signed in Paris in December 2015.

Still, the news is not all bad.

Despite the fact that the shots in Washington are now being called by a convinced climate sceptic, the man who said the Paris deal compromised the American economy, broke American workers and made the US weaker, America has actually made important progress.

Back in the year 2000, for example, each US citizen contributed an average of 20 tonnes of carbon emmissions to the global greenhouse. Last year, mainly because of the replacement of stinky coal by cheaper and, incidentally, environmentally better natural gas, that figure was down to just 15.6 tonnes.

Trump, of course, can take very little credit for that.

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