Most French companies favor a proposed free-trade pact between the European Union and the U.S., with carmakers and some farm sectors opposed, French trade minister Nicole Bricq said.
Any accord would require complicated negotiations, Bricq said in Paris as she presented results from a survey of 287 companies and trade associations and 122 other associations.
“One can only favor a trade pact when you look at U.S. growth rates when compared with Europe,” Bricq said. “We have an interest in attaching ourselves to a growing zone, but we can see it will be a long and difficult.”
With duties and quotas already low or non-existent between the two sides of the Atlantic, talks would focus more on farm subsidies, food labeling, health protections, industrial standards, and environmental guarantees, as well as trade barriers such as the U.S’s “Buy American Act” for public procurement.
The EU plans to present draft plans this month to kick-start the negotiations. The U.S. and the EU have given themselves two years to complete the talks. European trade ministers will discuss the proposed pact at a April 19 meeting in Dublin.
French President Francois Hollande on March 15 presented his red lines, saying France wouldn’t give up its bans on genetically modified food nor its “cultural exception” -- code for French insistence on laws mandating a certain level of French content on television and radio.
Bricq confirmed that “cultural identity” and European rejection of genetically modified foods are not negotiable.
French industrial companies “were very largely in favor,” Bricq said, with the exception of carmakers PSA Peugeot Citroen and Renault SA. Toyota Motor Corp, which has a factory in France, and French car parts makers were in favor of opening talks.
“Not many French cars are sold in the U.S., but our German friends may have a different idea,” she said.
Meat, ethanol, and corn producers expressed concern that U.S. producers have greater economies of scale, she said. Other farm sectors were in favor as long as the U.S. eliminated non-tariff barriers to selling in the U.S., she said.
“There are definite advantages we can gain from these talks, but the EU must come up with a clear and firm mandate,” she said.