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Merkel and Macron may find they can agree with Trump on China

Berlin

GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron will attempt a pincer movement on Donald Trump, with China emerging as the likely target of their effort to avert a trade war with the US.

The leaders of Europe's two biggest economies will visit President Trump in Washington within days of each other this month as the clock ticks down to a May 1 deadline for European Union proposals to stop the US from imposing tariffs on steel and aluminium.

A possible solution may lie in White House efforts to forge a "trade coalition of the willing" to stand up to China for what it calls unfair trade practices. The move is gaining favour with the government in Berlin as well as with the EU, which handles the bloc's trade negotiations, while a bruising trip to China earlier this year may make Mr Macron more likely to lend his support.

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The EU is just one front in the US attempt to rewrite international trade rules, with Mr Trump on Thursday threatening levies on US$100 billion of Chinese goods, shortly after Washington and Beijing outlined tariffs on US$50 billion of each other's imported products.

At stake for the EU are the metal tariffs that could take effect as soon as next month, threatening disruption to total trans-Atlantic trade worth some US$720 billion. "The Europeans are going to have a very tough decision to make, which is, are they going to play this game," Edward Alden, a Washington-based senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said. Mrs Merkel, in her fourth term as Germany's leader, and Mr Macron, elected France's young president on a pro-EU ticket last year, are both under pressure to deliver something in their talks with Mr Trump to calm trade tensions.

At home, Mr Macron is navigating a raft of economic and labour reforms that will determine his fate. A deadly attack carried out in the German city of Muenster on Saturday was a reminder for Mrs Merkel of the domestic security agenda that is dominating her coalition's early days, and which could topple her yet.

Mrs Merkel and Mr Macron have both made China's inexorable rise a policy priority, with Mr Macron pledging in January at the end of a trip to China to seek more strategic coordination with officials in Berlin on the issue.

On the trade front, the EU took concrete action on Thursday, asking to join a US dispute against China in the World Trade Organization over the Asian nation's discriminatory technology licensing rules. BLOOMBERG