Trump, EU chief set to meet in Davos as US digital tariffs loom

US President Donald Trump is likely to meet with EU leader, Ursula von der Leyen, in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum. (AFP)
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Updated 19 January 2020

Trump, EU chief set to meet in Davos as US digital tariffs loom

  • Pair have previously sparred over NATO spending, with Iran high on agenda

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump is expected to meet with EU leader Ursula von der Leyen in Davos, Switzerland, next week, three sources said on Friday, as tensions mount over tariff threats, and the US president faces an impeachment trial at home.

Just days after Trump scored big victories by inking a partial trade deal with China and passing a revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement, he will travel to the World Economic Forum where he is expected to discuss deepening trade disputes with the European Commission president.

The White House and the European Commission did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Among the raft of trade issues dividing the allies, Washington’s most immediate concern is France’s plan to impose a 3 percent digital services tax, which the US government believes would harm US technology giants like Google and Amazon, with a host of other countries poised to follow suit.

In retaliation, the US trade representative last month threatened to impose a 100 percent tariff on champagne, handbags, cheese and other goods and services. Trade experts say those tariffs could hit as soon as late January, given the lack of progress in negotiations.

“Things are not really going anywhere,” said a European official, despite frequent talks between French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and top US trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer. “The US is not really ready to compromise in terms of having some sort of digital services tax.”

FASTFACT

Among the major trade issues is France’s plan to impose a 3 percent digital services tax, which the US government believes would harm US technology giants like Google and Amazon.

EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan ended a round of talks with senior US officials in Washington on Thursday, saying that negotiations were off to a “good start” but there was more work to do.

Iran will also be high on the agenda, after the UK, France and Germany triggered a dispute mechanism in the 2015 nuclear pact, following Tehran’s decision to begin scaling back compliance.

The pact offered Iran sanctions relief, but Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions, saying he wanted a tougher deal.

Tensions in the region heightened after the US killed powerful military commander Qassem Soleimani. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, canceled plans to attend the forum.

Trump and von der Leyen, Germany’s former defense minister, previously sparred over Berlin’s failure to reach NATO’s 2 percent defense spending target.

In December 2016, von der Leyen defended her shocked reaction to Trump’s election, saying, “I am not a political machine, but a human being ... and I heard exactly what he said during the campaign, also as a woman.” 


Singapore unveils $3.5 billion in economic spending to combat coronavirus

Updated 06 April 2020

Singapore unveils $3.5 billion in economic spending to combat coronavirus

  • ‘This is an unprecedented budget for extraordinary times’
  • Singapore’s overall budget deficit for financial year 2020 is expected to increase to S$44.3 billion, or 8.9 percent of GDP

SINGAPORE: Singapore announced S$5.1 billion ($3.55 billion) in additional economic spending such as wage support, waiver of levies and one-off payments to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is an unprecedented budget for extraordinary times,” Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat told parliament on Monday, just over a week after the city-state unveiled more than $30 billion in new support measures as it braces for its worst recession.
On Friday, Singapore said it will close schools and most workplaces for a month as part of stricter measures to curb a recent jump in coronavirus infections. Singapore has reported a total of 1,309 infections and six deaths from the coronavirus.
Heng said the new measures unveiled in the third budget will increase the total spending on coronavirus relief to S$59.9 billion or 12 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). He said Singapore will draw an additional S$4 billion from its past reserves to fund the new measures.
“The situation remains highly fluid and uncertain. The government stands ready to provide further support should it become necessary,” Heng said.
Heng said Singapore’s overall budget deficit for financial year 2020 is expected to increase to S$44.3 billion, or 8.9 percent of GDP.