WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump suggested he might impose a 100% tariff on French wine to retaliate for President Emmanuel Macron's tax on multinational technology companies, according to two people with knowledge of his comments made at a recent Long Island fundraiser.
It's unclear if Trump, at a roundtable portion of an event in the Hamptons on Aug. 9 hosted by billionaire businessman Steven Ross with about a dozen well-heeled donors, was being totally serious.
The U.S. Trade Representative's office is holding a public hearing on Monday with U.S. industry representatives affected by France's move. After a comment period ends Aug. 26, trade chief Robert Lighthizer could recommend that tariffs on French products would be a sufficient response to offset the technology tax. The USTR opened its investigation in July.
The White House and the U.S. Trade Representative's office didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on Trump's plans.
Trump on July 26 raised the possibility of "substantial" retaliation against France over the proposed tax. "It might be on wine, it might be on something else," he told reporters, adding that he may make a move before the Group of Seven leaders' meeting in Biarritz, France, which starts Aug. 24.
The law signed by Macron imposes a 3% tax on the revenue of technology giants such as Facebook Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. Trump is a frequent critic of those companies, but bristled at the idea of a foreign government setting their terms of trade. "We tax our companies, they don't tax our companies," Trump said at the time.
"I've always liked American wines better than French wines, even though I don't drink wine," the president said in the Oval Office on July 26. The president is a teetotaler, but one of his family businesses is a vineyard in Charlottesville, Va.
The French tax "appears to be an attempt to garner leverage" in a multilateral process as nations seeks a consensus on taxing digital companies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said. "However, instead of helping the process along, this unreasonable tax policy will likely make consensus even more difficult to attain."
The Chamber, in comments submitted to USTR this week, said it doesn't support the application of tariffs to French goods as a remedy.
Even before the technology tax, Trump has had French wine on his mind. In November, he tweeted that it's too hard for American wine producers to sell in France but that the U.S. makes it "easy" to import French wines, which he said "must change."
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