WASHINGTON: President Emmanuel Macron was greeted by President Joe Biden and a military guard of honor at the White House on Thursday for a state visit that the French leader has seized as an opportunity to air deep grievances over US-EU trade. The red carpet and a row of flag-bearing sailors, airmen, soldiers and marines emphasized the effort made by the administration to welcome Macron in the first formal state visit of Biden's presidency.

After an initial ceremony, the two presidents were to meet in the Oval Office for discussions on the Western alliance confronting Russia over Ukraine, handling the rise of China and the contentious trade question. Biden and Macron were then to give a joint press conference before winding up the day with a lavish dinner featuring French favorites of wine and cheese-but in both cases American-made.

Macron repeated his frustration with US subsidies, saying they were hurting European companies by providing an unfair advantage to their American competitors. International trade has bubbled into a point of contention this week as Macron becomes the first foreign leader hosted by President Joe Biden during an official state visit, injecting fresh tension in the meeting between two long-standing allies.

Those frustrations emerged into the open Wednesday on Capitol Hill when Macron told lawmakers and business leaders that the US industrial subsidies that are part of Biden's huge green energy initiatives are "super aggressive" towards European business.

He repeated the warning Thursday in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" broadcast, saying that while Washington and Paris were "working closely together" on geopolitics and opposing Russia in its invasion of Ukraine, trade tensions remained.

The CHIPS Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, two massive US laws designed to boost US competitiveness and innovation, "are both very good for the US economy," Macron acknowledged. "But as they were not fully coordinated with the European economies, they create just the absence of a level playing field," the French leader said. With gas and energy prices "skyrocketing in Europe" since February due to Russia's invasion, Macron said it was vital that western nations coordinate more closely on economic and trade issues.

Macron has made clear in unusually blunt language that he is not just in Washington for the niceties. On his first day of the visit Wednesday, when he toured NASA headquarters, Arlington National Cemetery and met US lawmakers, the French leader surprised his hosts with a bitter attack on Biden's signature policy to boost the US green economy, saying it would "kill" European jobs. On Thursday, right before arriving at the White House, he repeated his criticism in an ABC television interview where he said Biden's policy would remove "a level playing field."

Aside from the trade dispute fireworks, most of the visit revolves around kindling the long, if often slightly prickly US-French diplomatic friendship. On Wednesday evening, Macron and his wife Brigitte joined Biden and First Lady Jill Biden at an upscale Washington Italian restaurant.

China high on agenda

Trade tensions, however, are only part of the uncomfortable flip side to the red carpet occasion. Another gripe in Europe is the high cost of US liquid natural gas exports-which have surged to help compensate for canceled Russian deliveries. There is also divergence on how to deal with the rise of superpower China. The question-with Washington pursuing a more hawkish tone and EU powers trying to find a middle ground-is unlikely to see much progress.

"Europe has since 2018 its own, unique strategy for relations with China," tweeted French embassy spokesman Pascal Confavreux in Washington. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said China will be "very high on the agenda" this week but stressed that both countries share a broad approach. "We believe that not only France, but every other member of the G7 -- frankly, our NATO allies too-see the threats and challenges posed by China in the same way." - AFP