(Bloomberg Opinion) — President Donald Trump has been looking for causes to extract commerce concessions from the European Union with the eagerness of a canine scrabbling round for a bone buried within the again yard.
First got here Germany’s $24 billion automotive commerce surplus with the U.S., with Trump coming near labeling the import of vehicles made by BMW AG, Mercedes and Volkswagen AG as a risk to America’s nationwide safety (earlier than he granted a reprieve). Then there was a World Commerce Group ruling on Airbus SE’s long-running subsidy combat with Boeing Co., which gave the White Home sufficient ammunition to threaten tariffs on a minimum of $11 billion in European items underneath the cloak of truthful commerce.
Now U.S. officers have discovered a special approach of assault: European digital taxes, particularly France’s. The French are about to impose a 3% levy on gross sales made within the nation by tech firms with greater than 750 million euros ($845 million) of world income. The likes of Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Apple Inc. have been up in arms about what they describe as an unfair tariff on Silicon Valley. And now they’ve been joined by their authorities, which is beginning a probe of the French tax underneath Part 301 of the U.S. Commerce Act, alleging hurt towards American pursuits.
The selection of weapon is telling. Trump has used any such inquiry towards China to assault it with unilateral tariffs. This isn’t about patiently ready for a ruling from the WTO, that is the stuff of commerce wars.
Whereas the French initiative definitely has flaws, Paris can also be being singled out for political and tactical causes. A number of different nations are introducing a digital tax too, and France would fortunately ditch its levy in favor of an OECD resolution. What’s actually motivating Trump’s group is the possibility to drive a wedge between the French president Emmanuel Macron and his euro zone companions. Germany has held again from introducing a tech tax of its personal, little doubt afraid of U.S. retaliation, whereas Eire – whose low company tax charges are a magnet for tech giants – has fought onerous towards the concept.
Bear in mind too that Macron makes a advantage of opposing Trump. He was the one European chief to brazenly object to beginning commerce talks with the U.S., and he’s combating to maintain the Iran nuclear deal alive. The tech tax is simply one other manner for Trump to use counter-measures.
What occurs subsequent is an enormous take a look at of whether or not Europe will stand by France regardless of the apparent divide and rule ways from the White Home. The EU’s Competitors Commissioner Margrethe Vestager had spoken approvingly of nationwide digital taxes regardless of fears that they could distort competitors, however her time period ends quickly. Europe’s leaders must show that multilateralism nonetheless counts in an period of bilateral arm-twisting. In the long term meaning making an attempt to keep up a world buying and selling system (even a shrunken one) that’s primarily based on shared values that run counter to Trump’s.
Zaki Laidi, a world relations professor at Sciences Po in Paris, has referred to as for a “Euro-Pacific Partnership,” bringing collectively Canada, the EU, and the remaining nations within the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This might help the WTO (which is underneath siege by the People), adjust to the Paris local weather accords, and reform dispute settlement procedures relatively than rip them up. As for tech, an EU or OECD settlement on digital taxes would make extra sense than messy nationwide options – and would keep away from Trump’s opportunistic singling out of particular person victims.
Sadly, that is all simpler mentioned than performed. The U.S. president is displaying no indicators of easing his tariff barrage and the trade-dependent EU financial system is stuttering, making it simpler for him to use strain. Trump is a real take a look at of European unity, and Europe hasn’t handed it but.
To contact the writer of this story: Lionel Laurent at [email protected]
To contact the editor chargeable for this story: James Boxell at [email protected]
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Lionel Laurent is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist masking Brussels. He beforehand labored at Reuters and Forbes.
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