- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 16, 2019

President Trump on Wednesday said the Italians are such great partners that he might give them a break on tariffs set to hit Parmesan cheese and other prized goods, even if the rest of Europe treats the U.S. “badly” on trade.

Mr. Trump plans to impose 25% tariffs on farm products from European Union countries Friday. The World Trade Organization gave him the go-ahead, saying Europe unfairly subsidized the Airbus aerospace company.

The levies primarily hit the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and France — the countries that spearheaded unfair subsidies — although Italy’s popular cheeses and other products were targeted as part of a push to hold the entire EU responsible.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella asked Mr. Trump to ease up during a visit to the White House.

“He thought we were a little bit harsh on Italy, and we don’t want to be harsh on Italy,” Mr. Trump said at a joint press conference. “We’ll never do that. So we’ll look at that very strongly. We will look at that for you.”

Mr. Trump is a big fan of tariffs, saying the U.S. uses them to gain the upper hand in global trade, though Mr. Mattarella said their use is a lose-lose for both sides — especially as Europe waits for permission to hit the U.S. over its aid to Boeing.

“This is a mere race between tariffs and mutual tariffs,” the Italian leader said. “I think it would be best to meet and to deal with our mutual needs so that a solution can be found.”

Throughout his presidency, Mr. Trump has complained that many European nations take advantage of the U.S. on trade. He says allies ought to be reciprocal in terms of economic benefits.

“Italy, on the other hand, they have been a great partner,” Mr. Trump said during a sit-down with Mr. Mattarella in the Oval Office. “Italy thinks we are charging them too much. We will certainly take that under consideration.”

For the most part, Mr. Mattarella’s visit was marked by what unites his country and the U.S., which is home to nearly 16 million people who claim Italian heritage.

“I have so many Italian friends,” Mr. Trump said. “I can’t tell you how many Italian friends.”

He said people should look no further than the recent Columbus Day holiday for proof of the bond.

“On Monday, we paid tribute to the Italian explorer who led a voyage of discovery to the New World, a gentleman known as Christopher Columbus. And to me, it will always be called ‘Columbus Day.’ Some people don’t like that — I do,” Mr. Trump said, an allusion to those who have recast the holiday as Indigenous Peoples Day.

Mr. Trump also pointed to Italy’s struggle in accepting migrants from Libya and other parts of northern Africa, likening it to his push to combat illegal immigration across the southern U.S. border.

“Immigration control is critical to national security and essential to the wellbeing of our citizens,” he said. “Nations must be able to vet, screen, and properly manage entry and admission into society.”

The president quibbled, however, with Italy’s contribution of just 1.1% of their gross domestic product on defense, or short of the NATO-wide goal of 2%.

“We hope that Italy will boost its defense spending in order to meet NATO’s minimum 2% of GDP,” Mr. Trump said, though said there was some positive news on defense. “I will say that they have just purchased — and we learned about it today — 90 brand new, beautiful F-35s.”

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