The Trump administration plans to impose punitive tariffs starting Friday following a World Trade Organization ruling that European plane maker Airbus received illegal subsidies. Trump used a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella to focus on a trade deficit with the EU that stood at $109 billion in 2018.
Trump insisted that the U.S. couldn't lose a tariff war with the European Union because he says the trade imbalance is so great. "It's a very tough situation for us for many years. But now it's a very tough situation for them because I can remedy the situation very easily. And there really is not any financial counterattack. Hopefully, I don't have to do that," Trump said.
Trump also used a news conference with Mattarella to urge Italy to increase its defense spending. Trump says Italy is spending only 1.1% of its gross domestic product on defense, short of a goal set by NATO allies during the Obama administration of spending 2%. Trump said he was pleased, however, that Italy has agreed to purchase 90 "brand-new, beautiful F-35s," a fighter jet produced by Lockheed Martin.
The leaders spoke at the White House after meetings that were expected to focus on trade, digital taxes and countering Chinese trade practices they consider unfair. Mattarella said trade tensions were to the benefit of no one and described tariffs as "counterproductive."
The World Trade Organization has formally given the go-ahead for the United States to impose trade sanctions. The EU won a similar WTO case accusing the U.S. of illegally subsidizing Boeing, but a ruling allowing possible retaliation is still months off.
Mattarella called on the two sides to meet and try to work out their differences. "There may be tariffs in six months' time concerning the subsidies given to Boeing," Mattarella warned through an interpreter. "This is a mere race between tariffs and mutual tariffs."
The two also discussed tensions in the Middle East. Mattarella said Italy was "deeply concerned" with Turkey's offensive in northeastern Syria. Vice President Mike Pence is set to depart later Wednesday for Turkey to try to negotiate a cease-fire after Turkey began attacking Kurdish fighters and civilians in Syria.
The two leaders did agree on their support for Italian native Christopher Columbus, though. Columbus Day was on Monday, but some cities and states instead recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day over concerns that Columbus helped launch centuries of genocide against indigenous populations in the Americas.
"To me, it will always be called Columbus Day," Trump said. "Some people don't like that. I do."