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August 31, 2016

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France aiming to stop trade talks between EU, US

FRANCE said yesterday it wanted to halt thorny EU-US trade talks as President Francois Hollande said there would be no deal until after President Barack Obama leaves office in January.

However the European Union commissioner in charge of the negotiations said they have not broken down and the aim is still a deal by the time Obama leaves office.

French junior trade minister Matthias Fekl said there was “no more political support in France” for the talks because US negotiators were offering “nothing or just crumbs”.

“France calls for an end to these negotiations,” Fekl told RMC radio.

Hollande, in a speech to France’s diplomatic corps, chose his words more carefully but said it would be an “illusion” to say a deal was close.

“The current discussions on the treaty between Europe and the United States will not lead to an agreement by the end of the year,” he said.

“France would rather see things as they are and not harbor the illusion that an agreement will be struck before the end of the US president’s term in office.”

But EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said that she did not agree that the talks had failed.

“They have been difficult, of course, we knew from the beginning, but they have not failed,” she said.

Germany’s vice chancellor and economy minister Sigmar Gabriel had said on Sunday the negotiations were effectively dead in the water.

“The talks with the US have de facto failed because we Europeans of course must not succumb to American demands... nothing is moving forward”, Gabriel said.

The EU Commission and US negotiators began work on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership in 2013, aiming to create the world’s largest free-trade area before Obama ends his term.

But the talks have become bogged down amid widespread suspicion in the 28-nation EU that a deal would undercut the bloc’s standards in key areas such as health and welfare.

Malmstroem admitted there would be no deal by the end of this year as originally envisaged when the talks started.

“I don’t want to analyse the mind and the intentions of President Hollande. And it is clear that for the moment we do not have enough — we can’t conclude before the end of the year,” the Swede said.

But she added: “We have the aim and we still have... that we should aim to conclude under the Obama presidency. That is still our aim.

“And if that is not possible it makes sense to make as much progress as possible.”

However Fekl said Paris sees an imbalance in the negotiations in favor of the US side.

“The Americans give nothing or just crumbs... that is not how negotiations are done between allies,” he said.

“We need a clear and definitive halt to these negotiations in order to restart on a good foundation.”

France will make its case for the talks to be halted at a meeting of foreign trade ministers in Bratislava in September, Fekl added.

He did not say when or under what conditions the talks could restart.

Gabriel yesterday said “given the current state of the talks, no agreement is possible”.


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