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Italy escapes new round of U.S. tariffs after direct lobbying

Italy escapes new round of U.S. tariffs after direct lobbying
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Italy escaped a new round of U.S. trade tariffs on European goods including wine and food after directly lobbying U.S. government officials.

“Italy today emerges undamaged from the revision of the list of products subject to tariffs imposed by the U.S. last October,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said in a statement on Saturday. “Wine, olive oil and the other Italian products that risked tariffs as much as 100 per cent are safe.”

In a sign of the delicate economic environment facing European nations, Italy reached out directly to the U.S. Ivan Scalfarotto, undersecretary at the foreign ministry, told Bloomberg in an interview that Italy deserves special treatment because it’s not part of the Airbus SE consortium at the heart of a long-running trade dispute between Europe and the U.S. He discussed the issue with U.S. officials last month.

“We’re doing everything possible to limit the impact on Italy, but the Americans have the upper hand,” said Scalfarotto, from the small Italy Alive party led by ex-premier Matteo Renzi. “Italy isn’t part of the Airbus consortium, and tariffs will have a cost for American companies, restaurants, families.”

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration said Friday it will increase the tariff rate imposed on aircraft imported from the European Union to 15 per cent from 10 per cent on March 18. Last fall, the World Trade Organization said the U.S. could legally impose tariffs on $7.5 billion (U.S.) worth of European exports in retaliation for Europe’s aid to Airbus.

In October, the U.S. imposed 10 per cent duties on Airbus aircraft and 25 per cent tariffs on a range of European consumer exports including Scotch whisky, French wine and Spanish olives.

Scalfarotto pressed Italy’s case in Washington in late January, meeting with senior officials at the White House, the State Department, the Commerce Department and the U.S. Trade Representative, as well as lawmakers from both houses of Congress. He said they gave him no assurances.

Italy is in danger of missing its already unambitious growth targets for 2020 because of the coronavirus outbreak, Deputy Finance Minister Antonio Misiani said in an interview on Wednesday. The government targets 0.6 per cent growth for this year, and output unexpectedly shrank 0.3 percentage points in the final quarter of 2019.
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