Hours after the United States imposed tariffs on a record $7.5-billion worth of European Union goods on Friday in a dispute over Airbus, there were signs the combatants might be ready to negotiate a settlement.
French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire lambasted the US move, calling it a “hostile act” from an ally but later said Washington had “opened the door” to talks to pull back the tariffs on French wines, Scottish whiskies and Spanish olive oil.
The scope of the talks should be “as broad as possible,” Le Maire told reporters on the sidelines of the annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
And as for the timing, “the sooner the better,” he said following a meeting with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
Le Maire, who has said the EU would have no choice but to retaliate should the tariffs remain in place, also met Thursday with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The US tariff onslaught caps a nearly 15-year dispute over government support for Airbus, which the WTO found violates global trade rules.
But the latest round of tariffs also come as Washington is mired in a trade war with China and is threatening to put duties on European cars, risking further destabilizing the global economy further.
Le Maire warned that a US-EU trade dispute would only aid China.
“We don’t want to negotiate with a gun (to) our head. Because when you have a gun to your head, you don’t have any other choice but to retaliate,” he added.
In the line of fire are civilian aircraft from Britain, France, Germany and Spain — the countries that formed Airbus — which face an additional 10 percent tax when imported to the US.
But the tariffs also target consumer products, including goods such as French wine, which Trump had vowed to attack in recent months, wine from Spain and Germany and cheese from Britain.
The tariffs kicked in after the World Trade Organization gave formal approval earlier this month.
The Europeans advocate negotiation over conflict and expect the WTO next year will authorize the EU to retaliate against the United States in a parallel case over subsidies for Airbus’ American competitor Boeing.
Brussels in July offered to call a truce on subsidies for the aviation companies, in which both sides would admit fault and agree to curtail state aid — to no avail.
As recently as Wednesday, Trump singled out the Europeans for being unfair with the United States on trade but said his door was open for talks.
The US Trade Representative’s office did not respond to a request for comment but White House trade advisor Peter Navarro laid the blame on the EU.
“The Airbus tariffs was a result of more than a decade-long suit that President Trump brought to fruition in Trump time,” Navarro said on Fox Business.
“It’s important to get Airbus to stop subsidizing so we can have our own air industry here,” Navarro said on Fox Business.
And, he cautioned, “they can’t retaliate under the rules of the World Trade Organization.”
Le Maire was clear that the EU would not retaliate in the Boeing case until the WTO makes a final ruling next year.