French Trade Minister Says U.S. Talks Dead as TTIP Wobbles

  • France’s Fekl says he’ll ask for end of talks at EU meeting
  • Comments follow Gabriel’s claim that talks have broken down

Matthias Fekl.

Photographer: Eric Piermont/AFP via Getty Images

France’s trade minister said the U.S. hasn’t offered anything substantial in negotiations with the European Union on a free-trade deal and that talks should come to an end.

“These negotiations are dead and France wants an end to them,” Minister of Foreign Trade Matthias Fekl said Tuesday on RMC Radio. “There is no political support in France for these negotiations.”

Fekl’s comments follow those of German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who said Sunday in Berlin that talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership “have de-facto broken down, even if no one wants to say so.”

The skeptical tone in France and Germany reflects mounting concern across Europe and in the U.S. over the impact of free-trade agreements. While TTIP’s advocates point to the economic benefits and the introduction of global standards, its detractors say it will erode wages and conditions. A populist surge is meanwhile feeding protectionist sentiment that further complicates the conclusion of trade agreements such as an EU-Canada deal known as CETA.

The European Commission, which is conducting the TTIP negotiations on EU members’ behalf, on Monday responded to Gabriel’s comments by saying the talks are making progress and are entering a crucial stage. Italy’s Economic Development Minister Carlo Calenda said in an interview with Corriere della Sera that talks will require many more months.

‘Given Nothing’

France will ask for an end to the talks in late September when EU trade ministers meet in Bratislava, according to Fekl. The talks have been carried out in “obscurity” and “the Americans have given nothing,” he said.

Speaking later in Paris, French President Francois Hollande told a meeting of the country’s ambassadors that a trade accord was impossible before the end of the year, though he stopped short of calling for an end to talks.

Gabriel, addressing reporters in Berlin on Tuesday, said that without an agreement this year, negotiations would be wound up. “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,” he said.

The TTIP talks have been held in several rounds since 2013. Because tariffs between the world’s two largest trading blocs are already low or non-existent, discussion has focused on hard-to-resolve issues such as European bans on common U.S. agricultural practices such as chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef, and U.S. laws that limit many public contracts to local companies.