PARIS • French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has demanded a "clear halt" to negotiations towards an ambitious United States-European Union trade agreement as Germany's leader stressed her continued support for the contentious pact.
The European Commission and US negotiators began work on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in 2013, aiming to create the world's largest free trade market of 850 million consumers.
But the talks have become bogged down as widespread suspicion abounds in Europe that the deal would undercut the 28-nation bloc's standards in key areas such as health and welfare.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday reiterated her support for the deal, saying it was not in Europe's interest "to fall behind other regions" such as Asia, which had inked similar deals with the United States.
"I believe that such an agreement would mean job opportunities for us and we urgently need jobs in Europe," she said.
But the French premier demanded a halt to the talks, saying the agreement in its current state was not good enough.
I believe that such an agreement would mean job opportunities for us and we urgently need jobs in Europe.
GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL, reiterating her support for the deal.
"The agreement on the table is, under these conditions, unacceptable. We need a clear halt in order to resume from a new basis," he said during a speech on Thursday to French ambassadors, according to France's foreign trade department.
"Since the beginning, France has made its demands very clear. But when we look at where we are, none of these have been taken into account."
France's junior trade minister who negotiates trade deals on behalf of France made similar comments earlier this week.
Dr Merkel's intervention came just days after her own deputy, centre-left Vice-Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, said the talks on the TTIP agreement were effectively dead.
Asked about Mr Gabriel's comments, Dr Merkel said it was "at least unusual" to declare the talks a failure just as they were entering their final stretch.
The aim was to have a deal signed before US President Barack Obama leaves office in January.
Instead, the treaty has become a hot political issue as elections approach in the US, as well as France and Germany - the euro zone's two largest economies.
While the European Commission wants to continue the talks, experts said it was unlikely the negotiations would continue without the support of Germany or France.
And even if EU foreign ministers decide to press ahead when they meet later this month, chances of a deal are now slim, ING Bank economist Daniel Bosgraaf told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"After all, neither (Donald) Trump nor (Hillary) Clinton supports the trade deal. For now, TTIP remains barely afloat," he said.
Ms Sylvie Matelly, deputy director at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, told AFP it would be difficult to successfully conclude talks which have "repeatedly broken down over... different viewpoints, and a lack of public preparation, and transparency over what will be negotiated."