US imposes tariffs on EU goods, targets Airbus

Civilian aircraft from Britain, France, Germany and Spain — the countries that formed Airbus — which will now cost 10 percent more when imported to the US. (AFP)
Updated 18 October 2019

US imposes tariffs on EU goods, targets Airbus

  • Civilian aircraft from Britain, France, Germany and Spain — the countries that formed Airbus — which will now cost 10 percent more when imported to the US

WASHINGTON: The United States imposed tariffs on a record $7.5-billion worth of European Union goods on Friday, despite threats of retaliation, with Airbus and French and Scottish alcoholic products among the high-profile targets.
The tariffs, which took effect just after midnight in Washington (0401 GMT), came after talks between European officials and US trade representatives failed to win a last-minute reprieve.
The WTO-endorsed onslaught from US President Donald Trump also comes as Washington is mired in a trade war with China and could risk destabilizing the global economy further.
In the line of fire are civilian aircraft from Britain, France, Germany and Spain — the countries that formed Airbus — which will now cost 10 percent more when imported to the US.
But the tariffs also target consumer products such as French wine, which Trump had vowed to attack in recent months. Wine from France, Spain and Germany will now face 25 percent tariffs.
Speaking in Washington hours before the tariffs were due to come into effect, France’s Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire warned the move would have serious repercussions.
“Europe is ready to retaliate, in the framework of course of the WTO,” he told reporters shortly after meeting with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund annual meetings.
“These decisions would have very negative consequences both from an economic and a political point of view.”
Le Maire was due to meet US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer later on Friday.
He also warned the US against starting another front in its trade conflicts and again called for a negotiated solution.
At a time when the global economy is slowing, “I think that our responsibility is to do our best to avoid that kind of conflict,” Le Maire said.
The Europeans have long advocated negotiation over conflict and they themselves will be able to impose tariffs next year to punish the United States for subsidizing Boeing.
But EU officials had already offered in July to call a truce on subsidies for planemakers, in which both sides would admit fault and agree to curtail state aid — to no avail. The two sides have been involved in a row over the subsidies for 15 years.
The tariffs kick in just days after the United States was given the formal go-ahead by the World Trade Organization.
As recently as Wednesday, Trump singled out the Europeans for being unfair with the US on trade, but said his door was open to negotiate a settlement.
The Europeans fear above all that Trump will impose heavy duties on imports of European cars around mid-November.
This would be a serious blow for the German automotive sector in particular, even if giants such as Volkswagen or BMW also manufacture in the United States.
“Our products are very hard to bring in (to Europe)” when Europeans easily import their cars into the United States, Trump said.
The Airbus-Boeing row is just one of several issues stoking transatlantic tensions that quickly descended into acrimony when Trump took office in 2017.
Trump embraced a protectionist agenda, slapping import duties on steel and aluminum from the EU and other allies, while also threatening tariffs on cars.
Trade groups in Europe such as winemakers, German tool manufacturers and whisky producers in Scotland have kept a clamor of protest, demanding Washington reverse tack.
The US leader and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker agreed in July 2018 to a cease-fire in the conflict to hold trade talks that have so far led nowhere.
The epic legal battle between Airbus and Boeing at the World Trade Organization began in 2004 when Washington accused Britain, France, Germany and Spain of providing illegal subsidies and grants to support the production of a range of Airbus products.
A year later, the EU alleged that Boeing had received $19.1 billion worth of prohibited subsidies from 1989 to 2006 from various branches of the US government.
The two cases were then tangled up in a legal quagmire, with each side being given partial vindication after a long series of appeals and counter appeals.


Afghan pomegranate growers squeezed as prices drop

Updated 28 min 43 sec ago

Afghan pomegranate growers squeezed as prices drop

  • Renowned for its reputed health benefits, the pomegranate is a point of pride for Afghan farmers
  • In Kandahar province, the prized crimson fruit could grow to the size of small melons

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: Pomegranate farmers in southern Afghanistan — where growing the juicy fruit is an important alternative to opium poppy production — say they are feeling the squeeze this year, with business blemished by chilly weather, pests and export woes.

The prized crimson fruit, globally renowned for its reputed health benefits, is a point of pride for Afghan farmers, particularly in Kandahar province, where luscious pomegranates the size of small melons dangle from trees.

Every autumn, Afghans start drinking pomegranate juice as the fruit bursts into season. Vendors pile carts high with gravity-defying pomegranate pyramids and offer fresh-squeezed beverages.

Haji Abdul Manan, who has been growing fruit in southern Kandahar for about 30 years, said a springtime cold snap damaged pomegranate flowers, impacting about 40 percent of his crop.

Problems also came from “lice, flies and a fungal disease,” he added, likening a type of greenfly to a natural disaster that had ruined more than 100 of the orb-shaped fruits daily.

“It is the duty of the Afghan government to spray all the gardens in Kandahar and to protect the pomegranates from diseases, but the government is not doing anything,” Manan complained.

Apart from its sweet flavor, fans point to pomegranates’ purported health benefits including high levels of vitamin C and antioxidants that are said to help protect the body.

“Kandahar’s pomegranates are the world’s best for flavor, color, and several times Kandahar’s pomegranates came first in competitions abroad,” Nasrullah Zaheer, the head of Kandahar’s chamber of commerce, told AFP.

In Kandahar, a medium-sized pomegranate goes for the equivalent of about 15 US cents, but by the time the fruit reach Kabul they cost about three times that.

Zaheer and several other farmers claimed Pakistan has this year imposed hefty tariffs on pomegranate imports, which, despite a drop in yield in some parts of Afghanistan, has led to an oversupply in the domestic market and sharp price drops.

But the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul denied such a drastic measure had been taken, saying Pakistan had raised duties only slightly because “Afghan exporters consistently understate the value of pomegranates and fruits.”

Muhammad Hafeez, a fruit and vegetable seller at a market in Islamabad, said the pomegranate supply from Kandahar had not been impacted.

“The supply is in bulk and the quality is good,” Hafeez told AFP.

Abdul Baqi Beena, deputy director of the Kandahar chamber of commerce, said about 40,000 to 50,000 tons of pomegranates were exported annually, including to India, Pakistan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

For years, Afghanistan and international donors tried to wean farmers from growing opium poppies by encouraging alternatives such as fruit crops.

But those efforts often failed as drug smugglers offered lucrative prices that normally far exceed the income from traditional agriculture.

The US Agency for International Development previously supported the farming of high-value crops, including pomegranates, as an alternative to opium production, but in recent years has shifted its focus to helping build export markets and supporting Afghan farmers that way.

“There is strong regional demand for high-value Afghan products that generate sufficient profit to justify export cost,” Daniel Corle, USAID team lead for development outreach and communications, said in an email.

“These include pomegranates, pine nuts, apricots, spices, gems, marble, and carpets, among others.”