EU and US continue trade talks despite French criticism
By Eszter Zalan
France’s president Francois Hollande on Tuesday (30 August) said that France could not support the agreement at this stage, two days after Germany's vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel called the US-EU trade talks a failure.
"The discussions right now on the trade deal between Europe and the United States can not reach an agreement by the end of the year,” Hollande told French ambassadors.
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"France prefers to look things in the face and not to cultivate the illusion that it would be possible to conclude an agreement before the end of the mandate of the US president," he added.
Earlier on Tuesday, French trade minister Matthias Fekl had said that France, at an EU ministers meeting in September, would demand "the pure, simple and definitive halt of these negotiations."
US president Barack Obama’s term comes to an end in January.
The Republican candidate to succeed him, Donald Trump, is very critical of trade arrangements, but the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, has also been lukewarm about TTIP - the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
But the European Commission continued to insist on Tuesday that the deal was not dead.
Asked about Hollande's comments, a commission spokesman said: “The ball is still rolling, we are working on the basis of a unanimous mandate given by the 28 member states.”
“We are not negotiating to weaken European standards, our environmental standards, our way of life”.
He added: ”Our ambition is to obtain a more universal recognition of our standards, we are involved in a structured process, we are working in good faith to conclude it and then member states and institutions will have an opportunity to assess it.”
Trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem, who is in charge of the negotiations, tweeted that she would hold a video conference with her American counterpart, US trade representative Michael Froman on Tuesday.
"Negotiations continue,” she wrote.
According to Reuters, she also told a group of reporters in Brussels the same day: “I do not agree that TTIP negotiations have failed”.
"Many countries have contacted us today to ask questions and say that they don't agree with the French. So there will be a debate on these issues," she added.
On Monday, Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert had also voiced the German chancellor's continued support of the talks.
US elections aside, pressure on the trade negotiations is also rising as Germany and France will hold elections within a year.
The mainstream parties in France facing a formidable challenge from far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who fiercely opposes TTIP.
In Germany, public sentiment has been sceptical about the benefits of the trade deal. The social democratic SDP party is also opposed to it.
For her part, Luxembourg’s Viviane Reding, a former EU commissioner who is now an MEP with the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) on Tuesday also called on the Grand Duchy to demand the end of the “useless" TTIP negotiations.
"Let’s defend our trade interests with CETA as blueprint!,” she tweeted referring to the EU’s trade deal with Canada, due to be signed in October.
The Dutch trade minister equally expressed doubts about whether TTIP is realistic. Lilianne Ploumen told Dutch broadcaster NOS that without concessions from America, the treaty will not happen.
She said that Europe had made demands on food safety and environmental and social issues, which needed to be met before the treaty can become a reality. "Without concessions from the Americans, I don’t see it happening,” she stated.
Since the 2013 launch of negotiations, the talks have been criticised for lack of transparency and fears that the EU would lower its environmental and labour standards to please the Americans.
There was also widespread concern about tribunals where foreign investors would be able to sue a host country government if its policies breached the agreement and caused losses to the investor.
The commission however argued that a successful deal would generate GDP growth in Europe and set the standard for international trade.
The EU and the US have also said TTIP would bind them more closely together in strategic terms, at a time of uncertainty over Russia's next move in Europe and over the rise of new world powers, such as China.