US eyes tariffs on French imports

Roquefort cheese may be caught up the Trump administration's proposed tariffs on France.
Roquefort cheese may be caught up the Trump administration's proposed tariffs on France.

The US government says it may slap punitive duties of up to 100 per cent on $US2.4 billion ($A3.5 billion) in imports from France of champagne, handbags, Roquefort cheese and other products after concluding that France's new digital services tax would harm US tech companies.

The US Trade Representative's office said its "Section 301" investigation found that the French tax was "inconsistent with prevailing principles of international tax policy, and is unusually burdensome for affected US companies," including Alphabet Inc's Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the government was exploring whether to open similar investigations into the digital services taxes of Austria, Italy and Turkey.

"The USTR is focused on countering the growing protectionism of EU member states, which unfairly targets US companies," Lighthizer said.

His statement made no mention of proposed digital taxes in Canada or Britain.

The US trade agency said it would collect public comments through January 14 on its proposed tariff list as well as the option of imposing fees or restrictions on French services, with a public hearing scheduled for January 7.

It did not specify an effective date for the proposed 100 per cent duties.

The list targets some products that were spared from 25 per cent tariffs imposed by the United States over disputed European Union aircraft subsidies, including sparkling wines, handbags and make-up preparations - products that would hit French luxury goods giant LVMH and cosmetics maker L'Oreal hard.

Gruyere cheese, also spared from the USTR aircraft tariffs levied in October, featured prominently in the list of French products targeted for 100% duties, along with numerous other cheeses.

The findings won favour from US lawmakers and US tech industry groups, who have long argued that the tax unfairly targets US firms.

Spokespeople for the French embassy and the European Union delegation in Washington could not immediately be reached for comment.

But prior to the release of the USTR's report, a French official said that France would dispute the trade agency's findings, repeating Paris' contention that the digital tax is not aimed specifically at US technology companies.

Australian Associated Press