EU should go to WTO over US subsidies, says lawmaker

French President Emmanuel Macron, who was in Washington for a state visit this week, described the subsidies as “super aggressive” and warned that they could “divide the West”

US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron walk down the Colonnade at the White House in Washington, DC, on 1 December, 2022AFP

The head of the European Parliament’s Trade Committee says he no longer expects a negotiated settlement to the dispute surrounding massive subsidies and tax breaks for US-made products.

The head of the European Parliament’s Trade Committee, Bernd Lange, said on Sunday that the bloc should file a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which was passed by the US Congress in August.

“I don’t think that much will change in substance, because the law has already been passed,” Lange was quoted as saying by Funke media group.

The $430 billion (€408 billion) US package aims to tackle climate change, lower the costs of medication for the elderly and reduce energy prices, among other things.

But it also offers massive subsidies and generous tax breaks purchasing US-made products.

Only countries that have signed a free trade deal with the United States, like Canada and Mexico, can benefit from the subsidies.

This has triggered concerns in the EU that it may disadvantage European firms — from car companies to makers of green technology.

What is the EU’s argument?

EU leaders say that €200 billion out of the total package is tied to provisions for domestic US manufacturing that potentially violate WTO rules.

The 27-member bloc says it cannot compete with the US tax breaks, as it is tied by EU state aid.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who was in Washington for a state visit this week, described the subsidies as “super aggressive” and warned that they could “divide the West.”

Macron and US President Joe Biden, however, pledged to work not to let the subsidies spark an even larger trans-Atlantic trade dispute, even though Democratic lawmakers said they have no plans to make changes to the IRA.

In Germany, while Economy Minister Robert Habeck called for a “robust” response by Brussels to the new US subsidies, Finance Minister Christian Lindner warned against engaging in a trade war with the US.

Pointing out that the German economy is closely linked to the US market, Lindner said Berlin should “rely on economic diplomacy” to protect its commercial interests.

The German government said this week it was keen to forge an EU-US treaty to eliminate industrial tariffs, which it said would avoid a bidding war on subsidies and protective tariffs.

Will the EU step up support for its domestic industry?

US and EU officials are due to address the issue at a meeting next week.

Lange, the Trade Committee chair, believes nothing substantial will come out of these talks. He said the EU should therefore step up its support for European industry.

Meanwhile, the EU commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton, told the newspaper Journal du Dimanche that the US act would create a “competitive imbalance,” disadvantaging EU firms.

He called for the creation of a “European sovereignty fund” to support industrial projects in the bloc.