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France vows sanctions if US imposes tariffs on wine, cheese

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French wine is just one of the European exports targeted by the US Trade Represenative
French wine is just one of the European exports targeted by the US Trade Represenative -
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France and the European Union will respond "with sanctions" if the United States rejects talks over the Airbus trade dispute, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Thursday.

"If the American administration rejects the hand that has been held out by France and the European Union, we are preparing ourselves to react with sanctions," said Le Maire.

The World Trade Organization on Wednesday gave Washington the green light to slap 10% tariffs on Airbus planes and 25% duties on a slew of products including French wine, Scottish and Irish whiskies and cheese from across the continent as punishment for illegal EU aircraft subsidies.

READ MORE: US hits Scotch whisky, Italian cheese, French wine with 25% tariffs

Earlier, government spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye told French media that France would take "retaliatory measures" in consultation with EU countries if Washington went ahead with the planned tariffs.

"We've always told the United States for the past few months that we considered it was better to find amicable solutions rather than engage in commercial wars. We must arrange on the European level to look at retaliatory measures we could implement," Ndiaye said.

France 'particularly impacted'

The French government's response is shaped by the fact that the country is one of Airbus' main shareholders, said Éric-André Martin, a research fellow at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI).

"Some countries are more directly targetted than others [by US tariffs]," Martin said, adding that France was "particularly impacted".

"Yet this is not a bilateral issue between France and the US but a problem between the EU and the US," the expert noted. Therefore, he told Euronews, the issue must be solved at the European level.

But France won't be the only country impacted by US trade tariffs: the Dutch Trade Ministry has said that roughly half of Dutch cheese exports will be hit by tariffs Washington has threatened to slap on European food products,

The Netherlands is the world's second-largest agricultural exporter after the United States, exporting 78 million euros of cheese products to the U.S. every year.

European response

The EU swiftly reacted to Washington's announcement.

"If the US decides to impose WTO authorised countermeasures, it will be pushing the EU into a situation where we will have no other option than do the same," Brussels said in a statement.

The world's two largest plane-makers have waged a war of attrition over subsidies at the WTO since 2004 in a dispute that has tested the trade policeman's influence and is expected to set the tone for competition from would-be rivals from China.

The WTO had already found that both Europe's Airbus and its US rival Boeing received billions of dollars of illegal subsidies in the world's largest corporate trade dispute.

Brussels will soon get the chance to impose its own WTO-approved tariffs in retaliation for illegal Boeing subsidies. The ruling is expected next spring.

Therefore is just a matter of time until such retaliatory tariffs catch up with the US, Martin said, adding that it was "regrettable" that both parties didn't sit down to find a negotiated solution.

The Europeans made a proposal in July to call a truce in which both sides would admit fault and figure out ways to curtail airline subsidies, which has not yet received a positive US response.

"At the end of the day, this is a matter of domestic politics," Martin told Euronews, emphasizing that the case fits into US President Donald Trump's rhetoric that the EU has been treating the US unfairly.

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