France joins Germany in urging halt to Transatlantic trade talks

Activists hold placards as they gather to protest against international trade treaties in Berlin, Germany, on Aug 21, 2016
Activists hold placards as they gather to protest against international trade treaties in Berlin, Germany, on Aug 21, 2016PHOTO: EPA

PARIS (REUTERS) - Current Transatlantic trade talks should be halted and a new set started, France's Trade Minister said on Tuesday (Aug 30), adding his voice to German calls for an end to the negotiations.

Mr Matthias Fekl said he would request a halt to negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) on behalf of France at next month's meeting of European Union trade ministers in Bratislava.

"There should be an absolute clear end so that we can restart them on good basis," he said on RMC Radio, adding he would suggest that course to fellow ministers.

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Sunday that TTIP negotiations had effectively failed after Europe refused to accept some US demands.

The comments put the EU's two biggest economies at odds with both the official line from the European Commission, the bloc's executive, and US Trade Representative Michael Froman.

Three years of talks have failed to resolve multiple differences, including over food and environmental safety, but the USTR's spokesman told German magazine Der Spiegel the negotiations "are in fact making steady progress".

The White House said this week it aims to reach a deal by the end of the year. "It's going to require the resolution of some pretty thorny negotiations, but the president and his team are committed to doing that," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in Washington.

The Commission also remains upbeat. "Although trade talks take time, the ball is rolling right now and the Commission is making steady progress in the ongoing TTIP negotiations," the executive's spokesman, Mr Margaritis Schinas, told a news conference in Brussels on Monday.

Supporters say the TTIP could deliver more than US$100 billion (S$136 billion) worth of economic gains on both sides of the Atlantic, but critics say the pact would hand too much power to big multinationals at the expense of consumers and workers.

Paris threatened to stall further negotiations as long ago as April, but there are national elections due in both France and Germany in 2017, and before the summer, experts were saying that this year - ahead of the US presidential election - may be the best opportunity to strike a deal.

That prospect looks less likely now, and Britain's June vote to leave the EU has further clouded the picture, even though the Commission has a mandate to finalise TTIP talks on behalf of all EU 28 members.