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France's Finance Minister Sues Tech Giants Apple And Google


French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire says he's suing Apple and Google. He claims that the tech giants aren't playing fair with French developers and startups. Bruno Le Maire joins us now from Paris to talk about this. Thanks for joining us.

BRUNO LE MAIRE: Thank you.

MCCAMMON: You're threatening to take Google and Apple to court, and you're threatening them with potential fines of over $2 million. Why do you feel it's necessary to do that?

LE MAIRE: Because of one single reason, which is unfair trading practices. We have nothing against Google or Apple, and we are not targeting any private company. We just want to ensure that the French laws are fully respected, in particular our trading rules which are there to ensure a fair and balanced relationship between producers and suppliers and along the supply chain.

MCCAMMON: So what's unfair?

LE MAIRE: What is unfair is that, for example, Google and Apple do not know the distributer of an app to freely choose how much he wants to charge the app. Google and Apple can terminate a contract at any time without any authorization coming from the app itself, and the distributor of an app has to make information related to the app available to Google and Apple but without reciprocity. And all those points would clearly show that there is an imbalanced relationship between Google and Apple and the producers of a app.

MCCAMMON: You've also said you want all the big American tech companies - Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple - to begin paying European taxes they owe starting next year. But they're not actually breaking the law, right?

LE MAIRE: No. You know, the point on taxation is once again to ensure fair taxation. And this is I think the core problem. I'm asking the small- and medium-sized French companies to pay their due taxes either in France or in Europe. I just want to ask the same to the Internet giants, either Google, Apple, Microsoft or Amazon. These companies are mostly welcome in France and in Europe. They are creating a lot of jobs in France and in Europe. But they have to pay their due taxes like any other private company.

MCCAMMON: While we have you here, Minister Le Maire, I need to ask you about another big point of contention between Europe and the United States. You've said that tariffs on steel and aluminum announced by President Trump are, quote, "unacceptable." You've been in Brussels this week discussing possible retaliation if Europe is not exempted. What will Europe do?

LE MAIRE: Europe has to respond to the decision taken by President Trump. Everybody has to understand in the United States that decisions taken by President Trump will have a direct impact on our jobs and on the activities of important private companies in France and in Europe. That's why we want to respond.

I just had a phone call with Secretary Wilbur Ross, and I explained to him that we fully share the same assessment on the problem of steel overcapacity in the world. But the right answer is not to enter into a trade war between the U.S. and its closest ally. The solution is to have a solution at the multilateral level in the framework of the G-20 or in the framework of the WTO. These are the good answers to a problem that we fully recognize, which is the steel overcapacity in the world.

MCCAMMON: Is your problem with these big American tech companies that we started out talking about - is it tied in with these other trade issues that you have with the United States?

LE MAIRE: No, no, there is absolutely no link between this affair of unfair trading practices. And once again, the decision I have taken on Google and Apple is not an anti-American measure. It is not a retaliation against steel and aluminum, and it has nothing to do with the taxation of Internet giants. It is a standard affair trading practice that we are tackling.

MCCAMMON: Bruno Le Maire is the French minister of economy and finance. Thank you for coming on the program.

LE MAIRE: Thank you.

MCCAMMON: We reached out to Google and Apple for comment. A Google spokesperson got back with us, saying the company's terms comply with French laws, and they're looking forward to making their case in court. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.