27 Jul 2019

Trump threatens tariffs against `foolish' Macron

7:02 am on 27 July 2019

US President Donald Trump has accused his French counterpart of "foolishness" over a digital services tax levied by France, hinting that he would tax French wine in retaliation.

US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron hold a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 24, 2018.

French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Donald Trump exchange greetings at the White House in April last year. Relations have since cooled with Mr Trump threatening to retaliate against French plans for a new tax on multinational companies. Photo: AFP

Mr Trump voiced his anger in a tweet directed at the French President, Emmanuel Macron.

France's 3 percent tax is to be levied on sales generated by multinational firms like Google.

The Trump administration argues that it unfairly targets US tech giants.

"France just put a digital tax on our great American technology companies. If anybody taxes them, it should be their home Country, the US," Mr Trump wrote on Twitter.

"We will announce a substantial reciprocal action on Macron's foolishness shortly. I've always said American wine is better than French wine!"

The president - who does not drink - also warned US tech giant Apple that it would not be given any tariff relief on parts made in China. "Make them in the USA, no Tariffs!" he wrote.

The French government argues that multinational firms such as Apple, which are headquartered outside the country, pay little or no tax on their sales in France. The digital sales tax was approved by the French senate on Thursday, a week after it was passed by the lower house, the National Assembly.

Any digital company with revenue of more than €750 million ($NZ1258m) - of which at least €25m is generated in France - will now be subject to the tax, which will be retroactively applied from early 2019 and is expected to raise about €400m in revenue this year.

Why target tech giants?

At present, they are able to pay little or no corporate tax in countries where they do not have a large physical presence. They declare most of their profits where they are headquartered.

The European Commission estimates that on average traditional businesses face a 23 percent tax rate on their profits within the EU, while internet companies typically pay 8 percent or 9 percent.

France has long argued that taxes should be based on digital, not just physical presence. It announced its own tax on big technology firms last year after EU-wide efforts stalled.

Defending the new tax on Thursday, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said France was "sovereign and decided its own tax rules".

"I want to tell our American friends that this should be an incentive for them to accelerate even more our work to find an agreement on the international taxation of digital services," he said.

French Finance and Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire visits the 'Grandes Ecuries' prior to the start of the G7 (Group of 7) Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors' meeting in Chantilly on July 17, 2019,

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire says there needs to be an agreement on the international taxation of digital services. Photo: AFP

An EU levy would require consensus among members, but Ireland, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Finland raised objections. France's new 3 percent tax will be based on sales made in the country, rather than on profits.

About 30 companies will pay it - mostly US groups such as Alphabet, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. Chinese, German, Spanish and British firms are also affected, as well as the French online advertising firm Criteo.

The French government said the tax will end if a similar measure is agreed internationally. The big tech companies have argued they are complying with national and international tax laws.

Prior to Mr Trump's tweet on Friday, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer had announced an investigation into the French tax, arguing that France was "unfairly targeting the tax at certain US-based technology companies".


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