France ready to take Trump’s tariff threat to WTO

French telecom companies SFR and Bouygues Telecom, which already use Huawei in their 4G networks, have filed applications with the National Agency for the Security of Information Systems (Anssi) to use Huawei's 5G services again. [EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON]

France is ready to go to the World Trade Organization to challenge US President Donald Trump’s threat to put tariffs on champagne and other French goods in a row over a French tax on internet companies, its finance minister said on Sunday (8 December).

“We are ready to take this to an international court, notably the WTO, because the national tax on digital companies touches US companies in the same way as EU or French companies or Chinese. It is not discriminatory,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told France 3 television.

Paris has long complained about US digital companies not paying enough tax on revenues earned in France.

In July, the French government decided to apply a 3% levy on revenue from digital services earned in France by firms with more than 25 million euros in French revenue and 750 million euros ($845 million) worldwide.

France set to introduce new tax on internet giants

France will introduce a bill Wednesday (6 February) to tax internet and technology giants on their digital sales, and thus curb efforts to pay global levies in countries with lower tax rates.

It is due to kick in retroactively from the start of 2019.

Washington is threatening to retaliate with heavy duties on imports of French champagne, cheeses and luxury handbags, but France and the European Union say they are ready to retaliate in turn if Trump carries out the threat.

US vows 100% tariffs on French Champagne, cheese, handbags over digital tax

The US government on Monday (2 November) said it may slap punitive duties of up to 100% on $2.4 billion in imports from France of Champagne, handbags, cheese and other products, after concluding that France’s new digital services tax would harm US tech companies.

Le Maire said France was willing to discuss a global digital tax with the United States at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), but that such a tax could not be optional for internet companies.

“If there is agreement at the OECD, all the better, then we will finally have a global digital tax. If there is no agreement at OECD level, we will restart talks at EU level,” Le Maire said.

He added that new EU Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni had already proposed to restart such talks.

France pushed ahead with its digital tax after EU member states, under the previous executive European Commission, failed to agree on a levy valid across the bloc after opposition from Ireland, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.

The new European Commission assumed office on 1 December.

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