Emmanuel Macron (R) will be the first French president to be welcomed for two US state visits

Washington (AFP) - France’s President Emmanuel Macron underlines US-French cooperation with a tour of NASA headquarters Wednesday, but his state visit will veer into tougher territory when he meets his counterpart Joe Biden for the main part of a rare state visit.

The French leader, who arrived late Tuesday with his wife Brigitte, will join Vice President Kamala Harris at the US space agency facility in Washington. He’ll stay in the high-tech sphere later when he attends a meeting on civilian nuclear energy.

The busy schedule, which also includes a working lunch to discuss biodiversity and clean energy, and a visit to the historic Arlington National Cemetery, illustrates the ambitions set for the trip – the first formal state visit by a foreign leader to Washington since Biden took office nearly two years ago.

The core of the visit will be Thursday, including a White House military honor guard, Oval Office talks with Biden, a joint press conference and a banquet where Grammy-award-winning American musician Jon Batiste will perform.

Compared to Macron’s edgy experience as the guest of Donald Trump in 2018, this trip will be a carefully choreographed display of transatlantic friendship.

French and US flags adorn the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House for the state visit of French President Emmanuel Macron who arrives in Washington on November 29, 2022

- EU-US trade tensions -

But tensions are rising over trade as Europeans nervously watch the rollout of Biden’s signature green industry policy – the Inflation Reduction Act.

The IRA is set to pump billions of dollars into climate-friendly technologies, with strong backing for American-made products. A similar effort is being put into microchip manufacturing.

Europeans fear an unfair US advantage in the sectors just as they are reeling from the economic consequences of the war in Ukraine and Western attempts to end reliance on Russian energy supplies.

Talk in Europe is now increasingly on whether the bloc should respond with its own subsidies and championing of homegrown products, effectively starting a trade war.

Europeans fear US subsidies for electric vehicles will distort competition

Another gripe in Europe is the high cost of US liquid natural gas exports – which have surged to try and replace canceled Russian deliveries.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby struck a cautious note, telling French reporters that “right now we’re in the mode of listening and making sure we understand concerns by our European partners.”

Kirby went out of his way to praise Macron, referring to his “experience and wisdom.”

- Strategizing on China, Ukraine -

The breadth of Macron’s entourage – including the foreign, defense and finance ministers, as well as business leaders and astronauts – illustrates the importance Paris has put on the visit.

France and the United States are NATO allies but sometimes at odds on defence issues

At the White House, however, a senior official said the main goal is to nurture the “personal relationship, the alliance relationship” with France – and between Biden and Macron.

That more modest-sounding goal will include improving coordination on helping Ukraine to repel Russia and the even more vexing question of how to manage the rise of superpower China.

“We are not allies on the same page,” one adviser to Macron told AFP, forecasting “challenging” talks with Biden.

Despite his strong support for Kyiv, Macron’s insistence on continuing to maintain dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin has irked American diplomats.

The China 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.

A senior US official said even if their approaches to China were “not identical,” they should be at least “speaking from a common script.”