U.S. could impose tariffs on French imports in retaliation against ‘tech tax’

France to slap new 'ecotax' on plane tickets from 2020

In an unusual move that threatens to worsen trade tensions with Europe, the Trump administration said it will investigate whether a proposed French tax on tech companies discriminates against United States business, a step that could lead Washington to impose trade penalties.

"The United States is very concerned that the digital services tax. unfairly targets American companies", the USA trade representative said on Wednesday.

This comes after US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer announced that he was launching an investigation into France's planned tax on tech giants.

The 301 investigation - the same type of probe that led the United States to slap tariffs on China previous year - is a rare tool for Washington to use against a close ally, underscoring the Trump administration's intent to continue playing tough on trade.

But the French move drew an angry response from Trump even before the legislation was passed, with the president ordering an investigation that the French economy minister said was unprecedented in the history of French-US relations.

This combination of pictures created on July 10, 2019 shows a Facebook logo on July 4, 2019 in Nantes, an Apple logo in San Francisco on September 7, 2016, a Google logo in China's Chongqing on August 23, 2018, and an Amazon logo in NY on September 28, 2011.

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The measure is close to passing both houses of Parliament and could soon be signed by President Emmanuel Macron, who has voiced support for the tax.

French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire delivers a speech during a high-level forum on debt at the Finance ministry in Paris, France, May 7, 2019.

The three-percent tax will be levied on sales generated in France by multinational firms.

The move gives Lighthizer up to a year to investigate if France's digital-tax plan would hurt U.S. technology companies. The bill focuses on companies using consumer data to sell online advertising, have annual global sales of over 750 million euros, and revenue exceeding 25 million euros in France.

A USA tech-industry trade association this week criticised the French measure, saying tax disputes should be settled through a multilateral negotiation now being led by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Trump's threat to impose a tariff of as much as 25% on European auto exports has cast a cloud over the negotiations as well.

"Between allies, I believe we can and must resolve our differences in another way than through threats", he said during his address to the French Senate in the run-up to the vote. "This is a critical step toward preventing protectionist taxes on global trade", CCIA official Matt Schruers said in a statement, calling on France "to lead the effort toward more ambitious global tax reform, instead of the discriminatory national tax measures that harm global trade".

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