France is open to discussing the future of the Word Trade Organization (WTO) if the United States drops its threat of a trade war with Europe, Finance Minister Bruno le Maire said Friday.
Le Maire spoke on the same day that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected at the White House to defuse an EU-US trade battle over President Donald Trump's threat to slap big tariffs on steel and aluminium on May 1.
The Geneva-based WTO is tasked with arbitrating trade rows between its 164-country membership, but has become a source of anger to Trump, who says the body is unfair to the US and soft on China.
"We are ready to open a discussion with our American friends on the future of the WTO, on the improvements of the WTO and the whole multilateral trade system," Le Maire said.
"But first of all we have to get rid of that question of new tariffs," he added as he arrived for talks in the Bulgarian capital Sofia with his eurozone counterparts.
Le Maire said French President Emmanuel Macron made the case to Trump earlier this week as the EU pushes hard to win a permanent exemption from the metals tariffs before next week's deadline.
Macron "made very clear that we are open to working on the future of the trade system because we have to build a new multilateral system as far as trade is concerned," Le Maire said.
Trump has repeatedly expressed scepticism about multilateral bodies – from the WTO to the United Nations to Nato– believing they constrain US power.
The tycoon believes that the WTO has been especially easy on China, which receives "tremendous perks and advantages" despite breaking the rules.
"The WTO is unfair to US," Trump tweeted on April 6 a day after China asked the WTO to referee its own rapidly escalating trade fight with Washington.