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French Finance Minister Reacts To New U.S. Tariffs On Steel And Aluminum


Unjustified, unjustifiable and dangerous - that is what France's finance minister has said about the tariffs on steel and aluminum the U.S. has planned for its closest allies. Member countries of the European Union, Mexico and Canada face a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum. They're set to go into effect at 12:01 tomorrow morning. We're going to hear now from France's Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire. Welcome to the program.


CORNISH: So the Trump administration says they're imposing these tariffs for reasons of national security. Do you accept that argument?

LE MAIRE: No, I cannot accept that argument. And frankly speaking, we cannot understand being hit by American tariffs. We are close allies to the United States. And we cannot understand that decision.

CORNISH: But the Trump administration gave Europe and other allies extensions - right? - while it continued negotiating possible limits on shipments to the U.S. So did you not have fair warning?

LE MAIRE: I had a meeting this morning with Wilbur Ross. And I made it very clear that EU countries will never accept to negotiate under pressure. We are ready to work with the United States on many issues, including the renewal of the WTO. We are fully aware that the trade system - that the WTO needs to be improved. But we cannot negotiate - we cannot enter into any kind of discussion under the pressure. And being hit by tariffs will not help us to open the door to any kind of negotiation.

CORNISH: You said you spoke with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. What was his response to your saying that you won't negotiate under pressure?

LE MAIRE: I think that Trump's administration has to be aware that the signal that has been given by the tariffs on the EU is a very negative and very aggressive one. So we do not have any other choice but to respond to Trump's decision. So we will take all necessary measures to protect our industry. We will also introduce an action at the WTO. We deeply regret the fact that we are obliged to do so. But we do not have any other choice.

CORNISH: You're speaking to us, I understand, from Montreal. Are you planning to talk with your Canadian counterpart about a coordinated strategy against the U.S.?

LE MAIRE: I will have a meeting with Bill Morneau. Of course, we will have an exchange of views on the coordinated response to Trump's decision. We will have also a very important meeting with my German and my British counterparts. We want to avoid a trade war because we strongly believe that a trade war will be a lose-lose situation for both the United States and for Europe. So we are in favor of a coordinated approach among the EU member states, of course. But we are also keen on having a coordinated response with our Canadian friends.

CORNISH: You've said that the U.S. shouldn't see global trade like the Wild West or a "Gunfight At The O.K. Corral." It sounds like you are already in a defensive position - that we are already in an escalated trade situation.

LE MAIRE: But I just ask the question. Who decided to enter into that kind of conflict between the EU and the United States? We have had very important discussion at the level of the head of states and at the level of the ministers on that question of overcapacity on steel and aluminum. And we've made very clear to our American friends that we were willing to improve the situation. But frankly speaking, tariffs are not the right answers to a real problem, which is the problem of overcapacity all over the world.

CORNISH: Bruno Le Maire is the French finance minister. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

LE MAIRE: Thank you. Have a good day. Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.