USA threatens huge tariffs on French goods over digital tax

On Monday, the U.S. government said it may impose punitive duties of up to 100 per cent on US$2.4 billion (S$3.28 billion) of imports from France, including champagne, handbags, cheese and other products, after concluding that France's new digital services tax would harm USA tech companies.

French sparkling wine, yoghurt and Roquefort cheese are on the latest list of goods that could be targeted as soon as mid-January, after a report from the U.S. trade representative's office found the digital tax penalises American tech companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.

The Monday release also included a reactive notice which threatened to target a number of French goods for tariffs, including handbags, porcelain, beauty products, cheeses, sparkling wine, soap and more items.

The US officials said they would hold a hearing on the plan on January 7.

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The USTR's report and proposed tariff list follow months of negotiations between French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin over a global overhaul of digital tax rules. There are 63 tariffs suggested in total, with a trade value of around $2.4 billion.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the US tariff threat is "simply unacceptable".

USTR Robert Lighthizer said the agency is also exploring whether to open investigations into similar digital taxes by Austria, Italy and Turkey.

This tax is specifically designed for tech companies in two categories - marketplace (Amazon's marketplace, Uber, Airbnb...) and advertising (Facebook, Google, Criteo...). "The USTR is focused on countering the growing protectionism of European Union member states, which unfairly targets US companies, whether through digital services taxes or other efforts that target leading US digital services companies".

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Earlier this year, France voted in favor of a new tax on tech giants. "It's not the behavior we expect from the United States toward one of its main allies". "This French taxation is not directed at any country, or against any company". The two struck a compromise in August at a G7 summit in France that would refund USA firms the difference between the French tax and a new mechanism being drawn up through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

French junior economy minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told Sud Radio that France would be "pugnacious" in its dealings with the USA on the matter, and that France would not back down on its digital tax plans.

The threat of punitive tariffs came after a US government investigation found France's new digital services tax would harm USA technology companies, and will intensify a festering trade dispute between Europe and the United States.

France's 3% levy applies to revenue from digital services earned by firms with more than 25 million euros ($27.86 million) in French revenue and 750 million euros ($830 million) worldwide.

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