France Wants End to TTIP Talks, Hollande Says

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By Rick Mitchell and Bengt Ljung

Aug. 30 — France opposes continuation of trans-Atlantic trade talks and plans to officially ask that they be ended when EU trade officials meet in September, the country's president and top trade official said.

France is open to international trade based on “reciprocity, transparence, respect of public assets, environment and culture,” which is why France supports the trade agreement reached between the EU and Canada, French President Francois Hollande said in an Aug. 30 speech.

Despite differences on sensitive tariffs, government procurement and other issues, EU and U.S. officials have expressed optimism that a deal still can be done. “The ball is rolling. We have a mandate from all 28 EU countries to negotiate. Nothing has changed,” a European Commission spokesman said Aug. 30.

Deal ‘Cannot Succeed.'

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations “are bogged down, positions have not been respected, and the disequilibrium is evident,” Hollande said. “The best thing we can do is to admit it lucidly, rather than continue a discussion that, on such bases, cannot succeed.”

France would rather “face facts” than “feed the illusion” of concluding the talks before President Barack Obama's term ends, he added.

Hollande's remarks came a day after Germany's Vice Chancellor and leader of the center-left Social Democrats Sigmar Gabriel said the talks have failed “even though nobody is really admitting it.”

Fourteen TTIP negotiating rounds have been held and nothing has been concluded, he said (168 ITD, 8/30/16).

Minimum EU Standards

“The U.S. has balked at accepting minimum EU standards in the talks, and unless that stance changes, I can’t see that it’s possible to seal the accord,” Gabriel told reporters in Berlin Aug. 30.

French officials have frequently questioned the talks viability, citing U.S. intransigence on key French concerns, including agriculture, geographic indications, financial services and U.S. market access, and other complaints

French Secretary of State for External Trade Matthias Fekl acknowledged in a morning radio interview that the European Commission can continue the TTIP negotiations without French approval. But he said there would be no political support for any agreement reached, hinting that several other EU members support France's position, although he did not name any.

Fekl said he plans to officially request that TTIP talks be ended at a September meeting of EU trade officials in Bratislava, Slovakia, where ministers are expected to discuss the impact of the U.K'.s vote to leave the 28-country bloc.

EU, U.S. Optimistic

In Brussels, European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem told journalists Aug. 30 that the EU-U.S. negotiations hadn't failed. Malmstroem later held one of her frequent talks on TTIP with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman via video conference.

“After the comments from France and Germany, several of my counterparts in EU countries contacted me to reiterate their support for the TTIP negotiations,” Malmstroem said.

She added that she and Froman will meet for a two-day negotiating session in September in Brussels, and that the next full round of negotiations is planned for October.

If an agreement cannot be reached before the end of Obama's administration, there would have to be a pause, the trade commissioner said.

“Regardless of which administration it will be, I think it will be difficult to believe that the first thing he or she will do is to deal with these negotiations. But I think there is a great value in TTIP also for the next administration,” Malmstroem said.

The European business lobby, Business Europe, also rushed to TTIP's defense. “TTIP is too important to fail. We need strong political commitment from the EU and the U.S.,” Business Europe President Emma Marcegaglia said in a statement.

The EU trade deal with Canada—the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)—took five years to negotiate, while the much more complex TTIP has only been going for three years, Marcegaglia said.

U.S. Focused on Progress

“The European Commission and EU member state leaders have clearly reiterated their commitment to moving negotiations forward,” Matt McAlvanah, assistant U.S. trade representative for public affairs, said in an e-mailed statement Aug. 30.

The U.S. shares that commitment and has been focused throughout the summer on identifying pathways to an agreement that address both sides' priorities. Froman is looking forward to continuing that work when he meets with Malmstroem in the “coming weeks,” McAlvanah said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Aug. 30 that the U.S. still is working toward completing negotiations before the end of the year.

There are “significant aspects” of the deal that need to be negotiated, which is why Obama is sending Froman to Europe in a few weeks to continue those negotiations, Earnest said.

With assistance from Rossella Brevetti, Brian Parkin and Raine Tiessalo.

To contact the reporters on this story: Rick Mitchell in Paris at correspondents@bna.com; Bengt Ljung in Brussels at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor on this story: Jerome Ashton at jashton@bna.com

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