(Adds background, Le Maire comments on digital tax)
By Francesco Canepa
BUENOS AIRES, March 19 (Reuters) - France expects the European Union to obtain a full exemption from new U.S. tariffs on aluminum and steel that are due to kick in on March 23, the French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said on Monday after meeting his U.S. counterpart.
The proposed tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, seen as the first major step towards protectionism by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, are chiefly aimed at shutting out excess production from China but apply to all countries unless they get an exemption.
With time running out, Le Maire said he had sought to convince his U.S. counterpart, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, that the EU should be exempted, during a bilateral meeting at a G20 summit in Buenos Aires.
"I've been clear with Steve Mnuchin that we are waiting for a full exemption from these new American tariffs for the European Union as a whole," Le Maire told reporters after the first day of a G20 summit in Buenos Aires.
"I think we should reach that goal. It's difficult (but) it's not out of reach," he added.
The European Commission has said that, if the EU is not exempted, it should set duties of 25 percent on a range of U.S. products, whose annual imports to the EU are worth 2.8 billion euros ($3.45 billion).
Le Maire added that a separate EU tax on companies with digital revenues - which could hit companies like Google , Apple and Facebook - could become effective as soon as next year.
"I hope that the directive on digital taxation might be adopted by the end of this year or by the beginning of 2019," he said.
The proposal, due to be presented this week, will see large companies with significant digital revenues face a 3 percent tax on their turnover, according to a draft seen by Reuters.
The EU's Economic and Financial Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said in a letter to Mnuchin last week that the tax was not aimed at U.S. tech companies but was intended as a first step towards harmonized international rules on the new economy. ($1 = 0.8109 euros) (Reporting by Francesco Canepa and Luc Cohen, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)