The World Trade Organization gave President Donald Trump the go-ahead to impose tariffs on as much as $7.5 billion worth of European exports annually in retaliation for illegal government aid to Airbus SE.
The award is the largest in WTO history — nearly twice as large as the previous record of $4.04 billion set in 2002.
The ruling on Wednesday is a milestone in the WTO’s longest-running dispute that will further test transatlantic relations, which have deteriorated under Trump’s “America First” approach to international ties. It’s also an example of Trump getting a favorable ruling from an organization he has threatened to pull out of.
The U.S. is already in a trade war with China, and any wider flareup of tit-for-tat tariffs with Europe could threaten a fragile global economy. The WTO on Tuesday cut its trade growth forecast for this year to the weakest level in a decade, warning against a “destructive cycle of recrimination.”
Boeing Co. extended declines on the news amid a broad retreat for U.S. stocks, dropping 2.4% to $365.88 at 10:37 a.m. in New York. Airbus briefly reversed an earlier slide before falling 0.6% to 116.04 euros in Paris.
The decision is one of the final hurdles before the U.S. can announce which products from the European Union it will target with tariffs selected from an initial list that includes:
- Airbus planes and parts
- Wine and spirits produced by LVMH, Remy Cointreau SA, Pernod Ricard SA and Diageo PLC
- Leather goods manufactured by Christian Dior SE and Hermes International
The new tariffs can take effect after the WTO adopts the report, which is expected to happen at a meeting in Geneva this month.
The Trump administration is considering a particularly damaging trade weapon known as “carousel” retaliation, which would enable the U.S. to regularly shift around the targeted goods, people familiar with the deliberations said last month. That would increase trade uncertainty and pain for European businesses.
The EU will retaliate against against any Airbus-linked tariffs when the WTO rules early next year on the bloc’s dispute over U.S. subsidies to Boeing, according to European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom.
“The mutual imposition of countermeasures, however, would only inflict damage on businesses and citizens on both sides of the Atlantic, and harm global trade and the broader aviation industry at a sensitive time,” Malmstrom said, adding that the bloc is ready to work with the U.S. on a “fair and balanced solution for our respective aircraft industries.”
Airbus warned in a statement that tariffs on its aircraft and components would come as a blow to the U.S. aerospace industry, with some 40% of its procurement coming from American suppliers.
The company also urged the Trump administration to take account of the forthcoming WTO decision on Boeing, saying those reciprocal tariffs could exceed the value of the U.S. sanctions. Chief Executive Officer Guillaume Faury repeated calls for a negotiated settlement to the dispute.
The WTO has repeatedly ruled that Toulouse, France-based Airbus unfairly benefited from launch aid loans and other trade-distorting subsidies for two Airbus models, the A380 and A350WXB.
The Trump administration wants to see an end to the EU subsidies in question, which Boeing and the U.S. claim give Airbus an unfair advantage in the highly competitive international passenger aircraft market.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire says the best solution would be one that lowers tensions, but warned that EU would respond “firmly” if the U.S. imposes tariffs.
“If the U.S. chooses to impose sanctions, it would be an economic and political error,” he said.