French finance minister urges US to end trade acrimony with Europe

Washington (AFP) –


French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Thursday called on the United States to put an end to trade rivalries with Europe, stressing that a "strong" France and Europe are in America's interest.

"My message to the US administration on these trade issues is very clear: let's get rid of these areas of tension between the US and Europe as quickly as possible," he said in an interview with AFP.

Le Maire was due to meet with White House officials on the sidelines of this week's meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

A key point of tension in transatlantic relations remains the dispute over steel and aluminum.

Former US president Donald Trump in June 2018 imposed punitive tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, citing national security concerns. The duties applied to US allies and rivals alike, and drew swift retaliation from Europe.

Joe Biden succeeded Trump as president in January but has not moved to lift the tariffs.

"There has been progress" in the trade negotiations but "there are still stumbling blocks," Le Maire said.

The two sides have until December 1 to settle the matter.

The French minister suggested the sides should take a "few months" to find a definitive solution that would end the risks of a trade war -- something he said belongs "to a bygone era."

He called the conflicts "unnecessary" and "counterproductive."

In addition, "they prevent us from working on much more important subjects" such as resolving difficulties in supply chains including semiconductors.

Finance officials gathered for the meetings of the IMF, the World Bank, G20 and G7 have focused on supply-chain bottlenecks that have created shortages of key raw materials in many countries, driving prices higher and threatening global growth.

Le Maire echoed comments from Biden on Wednesday, citing the need "to gain our independence on semiconductors," energy and other items.

- Reliable, attractive partner -

Countries can no longer accept a situation where auto factories run half capacity because they rely on semiconductors coming exclusively from Taiwan, South Korea or elsewhere, he argued.

France says global supply chain problems have helped boost Europe's move towards self-reliance in manufacturing, and urges Washington not to view the shift as a threat
France says global supply chain problems have helped boost Europe's move towards self-reliance in manufacturing, and urges Washington not to view the shift as a threat JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN AFP/File

But that move towards self-reliance in manufacturing should not be viewed by Washington as a threat.

"A Europe which is more independent, which has its own technologies, its own value chains, that is not against the United States, it is good for the United States," he insisted.

And France is "a reliable, attractive and powerful partner in Europe" for the United States, and an attractive venue for US investment, he said. But unfortunately that message "is not always understood in Washington."

On China, Le Maire advocated for a pragmatic rather than adversarial approach.

The American strategy is "to oppose" the rise in power of China, while Europeans want to "engage" Beijing on questions of intellectual property, market access and human rights.

"I think the only good solution is to exchange as much as possible with our American partners, to look subject by subject what approach we are taking, and to continue to cooperate, to discuss this strategic subject for the 21st century: the rise of China," he said.