France's Le Maire: resolving trade sanctions is my priority for Biden administration

PARIS (Reuters) – French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Thursday that resolving trade sanctions was his priority with the incoming U.S. administration in order to keep a trade war from adding to the economic pain from the coronavirus pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire speaks during a news conference on the country’s COVID-19 situation at the French Health Ministry in Paris, France November 12, 2020. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration hit France with tariff duties on wine after failing to resolve a 16-year dispute over aircraft subsidies with the European Union. It also threatened to impose tariffs on French cosmetics, handbags and other imports over Paris’ digital service tax on big internet companies.

“The consequences of trade sanctions on our economy are very negative and very detrimental. We already have the pandemic crisis,” Le Maire said in an interview at the Reuters Next conference.

“We should not add any kind of difficulties to this very difficult economic situation. A trade war is not in the interests of the U.S. and not in the interest of Europe.”

Le Maire said that he had received no “initial signals” from the Biden administration about how it would deal with trade, but that he hoped to visit Washington in February.

If the Biden administration gives its support, Le Maire said stalled talks among nearly 140 countries to rewrite the rules of international taxation could be revived at the OECD and wrapped up within six months.

Trade tensions with Washington have added to the clouds hanging over the French economy in the last year, as it was already struggling with its deepest downturn since World War II.

The U.S. government this week began collecting new duties on certain non-sparkling wines as well as cognacs and other brandies from France, adding to the pressure on the economy as it struggles with a slow start to its vaccination programme.

Despite a weak start to the year, Le Maire said that his forecast for 6% growth in 2021 remained within reach and that he was confident of a strong recovery in the second half of the year.

But he added: “We have to remain humble and cautious because we have been fooled by the virus many times.”

The minister said he was not worried about the initially slow roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine in France.

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