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France pushes EU Commission on winemaker support fund after U.S. tariffs

PARIS, Jan 12 (Reuters) - France urged the European Commission on Tuesday to quickly answer its request to compensate French winemakers for U.S. trade tariffs as Washington added new levies on the sector.

The U.S. government said on Monday it would begin collecting new duties on certain non-sparkling wines as well as cognacs and other brandies from France, among other products from France and Germany, after failing to resolve a 16-year dispute over aircraft subsidies with the European Union.

French winemakers already saw shipments to the United States tumble last year after the Trump administration hit them with a first round of 25% tariff duties in the trade dispute.

That initial move prompted a call from Paris for a compensation fund from the European Commission, which Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Tuesday had so far gone unheeded.

“I regret the slowness with which the European Commision is responding to our request about a compensation fund. This sector is hard hit and needs European support,” Le Maire told a news conference.

“I want the European Commission to quickly react to our proposal for a compensation fund,” Le Maire said, adding that resolving U.S. trade tensions would be a priority when he meets the new Biden administration.

The French wine exporters’ federation said at the end of December that the additional tariffs would cost the sector more than one billion euros ($1.21 billion).

Le Maire said he wanted winemakers to be able to defer reimbursement of state guaranteed loans and limits to be raised on their access to a government handout fund for businesses struggling to cope with the coronavirus crisis.

“We must find solutions and get out of this conflict which is a Boeing-Airbus conflict of which wine is a collateral victim,” Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie told a separate news conference.

$1 = 0.8232 euros Reporting by Leigh Thomas, additional reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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