Washington (AFP) – France criticized Washington’s trade tactics on Friday, demanding Europe be permanently exempt from US steel tariffs, while refusing to be drawn into a “vain and pointless” trade fight with China.
“We will not be satisfied with a provisional exemption,” French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said on the sidelines of the spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
“The increased tariffs cannot weigh like a sword of Damocles on trade relations among states,” he said, warning that France would not “enter a battle with China.”
“This would be vain and pointless.”
The “real matter is redefining trade multilateralism while acknowledging the reality of China,” he added, saying reforms were necessary in Chinese trade practices that have long faced criticism as unfair and overly subject to state intervention.
“We have difficulties in steel overcapacity. We have an issue on the protection of our technologies, we do not want the plunder of French technolgies,” said Le Maire.
The remarks, which partly restated earlier positions taken by France, come less than two weeks before Washington’s metal tariff exemptions are due to expire for major trading partners, including Europe, Mexico, Canada and others.
Le Maire’s statements constituted a pointed rebuttal to Washington’s stance in the trade tensions that have hung over this week’s meetings, a traditional bastion of trade liberalizaton.
IMF chief Christine Lagarde and World Trade Organization Director-General Roberto Azevedo have warned new trade barriers and sabre-rattling on commerce threatened to undermine the global economic recovery.
European and American officials said last month they had begun talks to resolve differences over metal imports after President Donald Trump unveiled the punishing tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum.
But US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the gathering on Friday that unfair trade was itself a threat to global prosperity and called on the IMF to “step up to the plate” in addressing global imbalances.
Le Maire said he was heartened that European member countries had maintained a united front in dealing in the trade talks.
“I am delighted that efforts at division did not work and that no country has given in to the urge to negotiate separately,” he said.