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France threatens strong ‘riposte’ to Trump’s proposed tariffs on French goods

A cheesemonger at Paris’s Beaufils cuts a large piece of Comte cheese on March 27. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

PARIS — The French government fired back Tuesday against the Trump administration’s threats to slap hefty tariffs on dozens of popular French products, insisting that the European Union would retaliate if the White House went through with its proposal.

Later in the day, President Trump suggested that some kind of compromise might be achievable, and French President Emmanuel Macron indicated his willingness to work toward one. This came hours after Bruno Le Maire, France’s finance minister, vowed what he called a “strong European riposte” to Trump’s proposed tariffs.

“This is not the behavior we expect from the United States vis-a-vis one of its principal allies, France, and, in a general manner, Europe,” Le Maire said, speaking on France’s Radio Classique. He called the proposed tariffs — as much as 100 percent on about $2.4 billion in imported goods, including wines, cheeses and certain designer clothes — “unacceptable.”

Agnès Pannier-Runacher, a junior economy minister, was even more unflinching in her remarks. “We need to be pugnacious,” she said Tuesday, speaking to France’s Sud Radio.

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The Trump administration’s proposal, announced late Monday, comes in retaliation to a French tax on certain U.S. tech firms, including Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon. (Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, owns The Washington Post).

Known as GAFA, the tax will take 3 percent of the annual revenue that those four behemoths earn in France. It has long been a point of contention between Trump and Macron, who initially enjoyed a relatively ­drama-free relationship. They have butted heads, however, ever since Macron failed to persuade Trump to preserve the Iran nuclear deal, a signature policy achievement of the Obama administration. Trump pulled the United States out of the deal last year.

“They’re our companies, they’re American companies,” Trump said Tuesday. “If anyone is going to take advantage of the American companies, it’s going to be us. It’s not going to be France.”

He, however, appeared to retreat from his tough stance a little later, suggesting that it would probably be possible to achieve a compromise with France on trade.

“We do a lot of trade with France and we have a minor dispute. I think we’ll probably be able to work it out,” Trump said. “But we have a big trade relationship, and I’m sure that within a short period of time, things will be looking very rosy, we hope. That’s usually the case with the two of us, we work it out.”

Macron also expressed confidence that both sides would resolve their dispute over the digital tax.

President Trump said Dec. 3 that French President Emmanuel Macron had been "very insulting" when he described the “brain death” of the NATO alliance. (Video: The Washington Post)

Trump had earlier disparaged controversial remarks about NATO that Macron made last month as “very, very nasty.” In an interview with the Economist, the French president described what he called NATO’s “brain death,” which he couched largely as a function of diminished U.S. support for the alliance under Trump.

Macron had struggled to find broad E.U. support for his digital tax, so how France would follow up on its threat of a “strong European riposte” to the United States on its behalf is unclear.

“In this, as in all other trade-related matters, the European Union will act and react as one,” Daniel Rosario, the European Commission’s spokesman for trade and agriculture, told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday.

Rosario said the E.U. would “seek immediate discussions with the United States on how to solve this issue amicably.”

The Trump administration’s announcement had an immediate effect on the markets on Tuesday morning. Shares in Hermès, the French luxury brand known for handbags and silks, dropped by roughly 2 percent; those of the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH fell by 1.5 percent.

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