Trade war would hurt Americans too, says Minister
Foreign policy – United States/trade/Iran/football World Cup/Russia – Interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to RTL (excerpts)
Paris, 6 July 2018
Q. – Donald Trump has gone on the attack, launching the biggest trade war in economic history, according to Beijing. According to Beijing, last night he imposed very high customs duties on $34 billion of Chinese products. China is retaliating. Is there a genuine risk of a collapse in global trade following this decision?
THE MINISTER – The United States and Donald Trump are systematically undermining all the tools of coexistence the international community has gradually created since 1945. It’s true when you look at the climate, when you look at relations with Iran, and when you look at the major issues linked to the United Nations. It’s now true when you look at the organizing of trade regulation established by the World Trade Organization, which lays down rules, a modus operandi and places for resolving litigation and disputes, and this whole package is currently being undermined, if only by the measures President Trump has just taken vis-à-vis China. We have some deadlock with regard to…
Q. – Who is imposing the law of the strongest?
THE MINISTER – We have some disputes with regard to China.
I accompanied the Prime Minister to China a few days ago. Through discussion, we managed to make some progress possible – I’m thinking in particular of the removal of the embargo on beef. So you have to talk, you have to discuss things, there’s a place for doing it called the WTO, and today Trump is breaking with that system. It’s a dangerous game. It’s not yet a trade war but it looks a lot like a trade war.
Q. – Why do you say it’s not yet a trade war?
THE MINISTER – Because it’s not yet an outright one: there are announcements, there’s going to be retaliation, negotiations may begin afterwards. But we’re in the process of…
Q. – Do you believe, at this stage in the confrontation, in the balance of power?
THE MINISTER – Why not, because a balance of power exists and the United States is trying to secure advantages through pressure and threats. But if it doesn’t secure those advantages, then we’re in a dangerous spiral, and there are only losers in all this. The losers include Americans; I’m thinking in particular of the measures the United States announced in relation to Europe, concerning the automotive industry, but I’m also thinking of the measures already implemented through the increase in customs duties on steel and aluminium. Europe reacted, it reacted unanimously, it reacted resolutely to ensure there were counter-measures showing that we’re not naïve and can defend ourselves. But it ends in decisions like, for example, Harley Davidson, which has just decided to leave the United States and set up elsewhere. There are only losers in this business.
Q. – Europe had leverage; it is indeed acting on Harley Davidson, which is a small niche market but which is annoyingDonald Trump. So in relation to the China-United States confrontation, do you think what was decided last night may not be implemented, and that behind this there are a number of compromises preventing this disaster?
THE MINISTER – We’ll see. For the time being, the United States has taken measures because it believes its relations with China require this strong measure; it’s exerting pressure and making threats. China will react. Perhaps there will be a discussion afterwards. If there’s no discussion afterwards, then we’ve entered into a trade war.
Q. – What’s the risk?
THE MINISTER – And this trade war leads to a slowdown in global growth…
Q. – Global growth, European growth and French growth…
THE MINISTER – And it will also lead to various countries turning in on themselves. We’d like that not to be the case, and we must exert pressure on the United States to avoid this approach. It’s a vicious circle and a dangerous approach that helps no one, beginning with the United States, which will be a victim itself. When I see the boss of General Motors alerting the American authorities and saying, “if you do this, if you continue with this approach, I’m going to close businesses and I’m going to cut jobs”, you can see we’re not looking at a win-win situation but a lose-lose situation.
Q. – Some economists have calculated how costly this would be for French growth: the impact of this trade war, if it existed, would be 3% of GDP.
THE MINISTER – Which means that, as things stand, we must defend ourselves; it’s not a question…
Q. – Do we in Europe have the means?
THE MINISTER – Yes, we’ve shown it through the European reaction to the measures on steel and aluminium, through proportionate but very firm counter-measures taken unanimously by the European Union, taken with great determination. If the United States takes additional initiatives tomorrow concerning the automotive industry, there will be the same reaction.
Q. – Even so, isn’t US policy constantly dumbfounding people?
THE MINISTER – There’s an approach geared to deconstruction, which I mentioned earlier, geared to self-interest, to the Wild West somewhat, to an eye for an eye, to a reassertion of powers, to self-absorption and isolationism, with casualties – but tomorrow’s casualties will be the Americans themselves.
Iran nuclear deal
Q. – Straight after this interview you’re off to Vienna, where all the signatories to the agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme are meeting together for the first time since the United States’ withdrawal. On the subject of which, is there the slightest chance Trump could come back into the agreement?
THE MINISTER – No, but the agreement remains. We’ve got this meeting in Vienna today, which is provided for under the Vienna agreement. The Vienna agreement dates back three years almost to the day, following 12 years of negotiations. Twelve years of negotiations to reach an agreement which makes it possible today to prevent a nuclear risk from Iran, provided Iran completely honours its commitments. This is the case today, because the International Atomic Energy Agency has noted it…
Q. – Is this the case at the moment?
THE MINISTER – I think we’re going to see this later on. There are commitments Iran must fulfil, including not to continuously threaten to go back on its commitments, because if it went back on its commitments we’d take appropriate action ourselves…
Q. – It has to stop issuing threats?
THE MINISTER – It has to stop issuing threats and we have to find solutions so that Iran can have the necessary compensation it may have because of the agreement…
Q. – Economic compensation?
THE MINISTER – Economic compensation that it must have and we must now contemplate, bearing in mind that the United States has decided to implement so-called extraterritorial measures targeting companies which, broadly speaking, use the dollar for their trade negotiations. So a mechanism needs to be implemented with our partners – European partners (the British, the Germans) and the Chinese and the Russians, who will be present at the Vienna meeting – which allows Iran to go on trading as long as it honours its commitments.
Q. – What you’re saying is that you’re trying to establish a financial mechanism which would allow certain French companies to remain, not all…
THE MINISTER – French and other companies to remain without falling prey to the US extraterritorial measures.
Q. – The US sanctions.
THE MINISTER – The issue is on the table, along with the dispute we have with Iran.
Q. – And is that possible?
THE MINISTER – We’re trying to make proposals.
Q. – Could this come about before the sanctions start?
THE MINISTER – We’re going to try and do it before the sanctions start. They start at the beginning of August; a second set of sanctions is due to be introduced in November. The beginning of August may be a bit tight but we’re going to try for November.
But that doesn’t get rid of the dispute we have with Iran, because our approach is geared to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons – this is what we’re doing today. Because if Iran had nuclear weapons, it would be extremely dangerous for the stability of the whole region and even the world.
But there are other issues with Iran, other issues on which there are serious disputes. First, their willingness to destabilize the whole region by helping certain groups in Yemen and helping in Syria by being present and backing Bashar al-Assad in the conflicts, and through support for operations today in south-east Syria. All this has to stop and be discussed. Just as Iran’s kind of instinctive craving for missiles today – which is linked not just to its own security but also to its desire to intervene in territories other than its own – has to be discussed. So these precautions must be taken and the debate must be opened with them. (…)./.