A French wrench in EU trade talks

Posted: June 15, 2013

One of the big goals of President Obama's trip to Europe may be in jeopardy, with French objections threatening to hold up the launch of negotiations on a U.S.-European Union free-trade pact.

The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has raised expectations of boosting growth and jobs by eliminating tariffs and other barriers. It would create a market with common standards and regulations across countries that account for nearly half the global economy.

And it would be a sharp departure from years of squabbling over such matters as agriculture, food safety, climate-change legislation, financial deregulation, and intellectual-property enforcement. There had been signs of carefully choreographed plans to announce the start of talks next week, when Obama attends the G-8 summit of leading economic nations in Northern Ireland.

But France is demanding an exclusion for European film, radio and TV industries, fearing Hollywood's influence on its culture. The United States says nothing should be taken off the table before negotiations begin.

Officials at the 27-nation EU say France has the political clout to block an EU mandate that would green-light negotiations because it would be folly to enter the trade talks divided. The French threat, plus controversy over sweeping U.S. secret surveillance programs, may have soured the atmosphere for an announcement during Obama's visit.

The European Parliament demands that data protection be paramount in the trade talks now that the surveillance programs have come to light. "The agreement should guarantee full respect for EU fundamental rights," Martin Schulz, president of the legislature, said Thursday.

Americans are urging swift action to open proceedings.

"If the Europeans cannot get their act together to start the negotiations when the president is here in Europe, I seriously wonder when these negotiations will begin," said Peter Chase, U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice president for Europe.

Both the United States and Britain want to announce the negotiations by the G-8 summit Monday and Tuesday, with talks likely to start in July.

A 90-day period for Congress to give input on negotiating objectives runs out Monday, the day the summit begins. And EU trade ministers are set to vote Friday on a mandate for the European Commission to negotiate.

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