France threatens halt to TTIP talks barring progress in coming months

France threatens halt to TTIP talks barring progress in coming months

By Yves Clarisse and Emmanuel Jarry on Reuters.

France has threatened to stall further negotiations on a new EU-U.S. free trade deal barring significant progress in coming months, Trade Minister Matthias Fekl said on Tuesday.

“I indicated in September that if there was no progress, we should end the negotiations. That option is still on the table,” Fekl said on the sidelines of a conference about the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Fekl was speaking the week before the scheduled resumption of negotiations in New York between the European Commission and President Barack Obama’s administration. With November’s U.S. presidential election looming, officials on both sides feel it will be easier to clinch a deal before the end of Obama’s term.

“We’re aware that some countries want to get a deal at all costs within the U.S. time frame,” Fekl said. “That’s not the French approach.”

France has electoral calendar issues of its own, with campaigning now getting under way for a presidential election in April-May 2017.

Backing a TTIP deal, already deeply unpopular with the French left as well as the country’s powerful agricultural lobby, is an increasingly tricky exercise for Socialist President Francois Hollande or any of his potential challengers.

“France can always say no,” Hollande said last week during a lengthy TV interview in which he attempted to tackle some of the issues that have sunk his approval ratings to record lows.

“If there’s no reciprocity, if there is no transparency, if there’s a danger to farmers, if we don’t have access to public markets while the U.S. has access to everything we do here, then I won’t accept it.”

European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said last month that she was determined to sew up most of the TTIP chapters by summer, including settling major differences over U.S. “Buy American” government procurement standards, how to resolve investment disputes and over Europe’s many geographical rules that govern food products from Parma ham to feta cheese.

(Additional reporting by Bate Felix; Writing by Laurence Frost; Editing by Mark Heinrich)