October 1, 2019 / 5:28 PM / 2 months ago

Italian protesters challenge U.S. Secretary of State on food tariffs threat

ROME (Reuters) - Protesters challenged U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday over threats from Washington to impose tariffs on some Italian food products in retaliation for subsidies granted to EU aerospace company Airbus.

Pompeo is on a four-day visit to Italy and held talks with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte shortly after flying into Rome.

Farmers staged a small demonstration outside Mattarella’s residence as Pompeo arrived for his meeting.

“Don’t kill Italian food,” read one placard. “Mr Pompeo we are friends,” said another.

When he later met Conte, a journalist from a satirical television show walked up to him and handed him a piece of parmesan cheese. “This is something ... made from the heart... so we hope you can help us in taking it to ... Mr. Trump, please,” she said.

A smiling Pompeo took the cheese as Conte ordered security guards to remove her.

“She is not welcome anymore. Please escort her out. Show respect when you are a guest in someone else’s house,” he said.

Earlier this year, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that Airbus (AIR.PA) had received illegal government subsidies, giving Washington a green light to impose punitive tariffs.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds a piece of parmesan cheese received from Italian journalist Alice Martinelli (not pictured) during his meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in Rome, Italy, October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

The United States has drawn up a list of EU imports worth $25 billion from which it will pick targets from aircraft and aerospace parts to wine, cheese and luxury goods.

Some Italian products, including parmesan and olive oil, are in the firing line. Italian farmers say this is unfair because Italy is not part of the Airbus consortium. The proposed levies could devastate a vital export market, according to farmers.

The Italian farmers’ association Coldiretti estimates that sales of foodstuffs to the United States are worth some 4.5 billion euros a year.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Crispian Balmer; editing by Grant McCool

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