Trade tension overshadows Macron’s lavish and strategic visit to the White House

Trade tension overshadows Macron’s lavish and strategic visit to the White House

French President Emmanuel Macron is expected in Washington this Tuesday for a state visit organized by his counterpart Joe Biden, but harsh disagreements over trade between the United States and the European Union loom over the pomp of the White House.

The Covid-19 pandemic made this the first state visit of the Biden presidency, and US officials say France was chosen not just because of deep historical ties but because of its commitment to confront Russia over its war in Ukraine.

Biden will honor Macron with a military welcome ceremony, a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, a meeting in the Oval Office, a private dinner with their spouses on Wednesday and a state banquet on Thursday, featuring American musician Jon Batiste, winner of the Grammy Award Winner and also an advocate for African-American rights.

Compared to Macron’s first experience of a US state visit as a guest of Donald Trump in 2018, this trip, which concludes with a stop on Friday in the erstwhile French city of New Orleans, will be a carefully choreographed display of transatlantic friendship.

Certainly the diplomatic furor was left behind last year, when Australia canceled a deal to buy French submarines in favor of US nuclear submarines.

But even with little risk of Trump-style stridency, Macron has several grievances to air.

– Trade war? –

The main claim is about Biden’s ambitious plan to support the energy transition, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which gives generous subsidies to electric vehicles, batteries or renewable energy as long as they are “Made in America”.

Europeans, grappling with the economic fallout from the Ukraine war and seeking to end reliance on Russian energy supplies, fear unfair competition and protectionism from the United States.

The EU is increasingly talking about whether the bloc should respond with its own subsidies for self-made products, effectively starting a trade war.

“China favors its own products, the United States favors its own products. It might be time for Europe to favor its own products,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told France 3 radio on Sunday.

Martin Quencez, deputy director of the Paris office of the GMF think tank, said Macron will tell Biden that “there is a contradiction between an administration that constantly talks about alliances (…) and at the same time makes a decision like that of the IRA, which will impact the economies of the allies”.

Another claim in Europe is the high cost of US liquefied natural gas exports, which have risen to try to replace canceled Russian deliveries.

Faced with accusations that the United States is profiting from the war in Ukraine, a senior US official called it a “false claim.”

The official also played down IRA friction, saying there was a “very constructive set of talks” about how to prevent European companies from being shut out.

Underscoring the importance of the issue for Paris, Macron met dozens of business executives before leaving for Washington, urging them to continue investing in France. Among these were representatives of the American giants Goldman Sachs and McDonald’s.

– Strategies on Ukraine and China –

Macron’s entourage, which includes foreign, defense and finance ministers, as well as business leaders and even astronauts, illustrates the importance Paris has attached to the visit.

However, at the White House, a senior official said that the main objective is to foster the “personal relationship”, “the alliance” with France and between Biden and Macron.

That goal will include improving coordination to help Ukraine repel Russia and, on the other hand, how to handle the rise of China’s superpower.

“We are not allies on the same page,” a Macron adviser told AFP, anticipating “challenging” talks with Biden.

Despite his strong support for kyiv, Macron’s insistence on continuing dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin has riled US diplomats.

The China issue, where Washington has taken a more aggressive tone and EU powers have tried to find a middle ground, is unlikely to go far.

“Europe has since 2018 its own unique strategy for relations with China,” the spokesman for the French embassy in Washington, Pascal Confavreux, tweeted.

A senior US official said that even if their approaches “were not identical”, they should at least “speak from a common script”.

Ben Oakley
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