France threatens to block start of EU/U.S. free trade talks

DUBLIN Thu Apr 18, 2013 2:53pm EDT

France's Foreign Trade Minister Nicole Bricq leaves after a news conference at the French Embassy in Beijing January 21, 2013. REUTERS/China Daily

France's Foreign Trade Minister Nicole Bricq leaves after a news conference at the French Embassy in Beijing January 21, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/China Daily

DUBLIN (Reuters) - France said on Thursday it would block proposed negotiations on a free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States unless cultural sectors, such as television and radio, were excluded from the talks.

Trade ministers held an unprecedented informal meeting in Dublin on Thursday on the negotiations, which the Commission and most member states want to launch by the end of June. The talks are likely to last two years.

"The position of France is that we want exclusion from discussion of cultural items. This is non-negotiable. It is not a surprise. I have said it and if we do have exclusion, we will have no agreement," French Trade Minister Nicole Bricq told a briefing after the ministerial meeting.

"This is a sine qua non condition for our country."

A trade pact between the United States and the European Union would encompass half the world's economic output and a third of all trade, and be the most ambitious trade accord since the 1995 formation of the World Trade Organization.

Ireland, which holds the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union, aims to secure EU-wide agreement on the start of negotiations at a meeting set for June 14.

An EU source said one other member state shared France's view on excluding cultural sectors.

Bricq said the audio-visual sector in the European Union employed a million people and was worth 17 billion euros per year.

Those members willing to include the audio-visual sector in the trade talks say that excluding it would probably prompt the United States to reject certain EU demands, such as recognition that certain product names, such as Camembert cheese, can only be used for products from a specific region.

"If we set up red lines, the United States will do the same," Swedish Trade Minister Ewa Bjorling told Reuters.

Some forecasts suggest an EU-U.S. deal could add 0.5 percent to the EU economy and 0.4 percent to the U.S. economy by 2027, at a time when the euro zone is in recession and the United States is expanding only modestly.

Bricq questioned these figures, cited by the European Commission, and said a trade agreement would not provide a quick-fix for Europe's malaise.

"It would be naive to think that the discussions, which will be long and difficult ... will really save Europe from the current anemia," she said.

Bricq said she was not opposed to a free trade deal and that the launch of talks on June 14 did not depend on France alone.

"I cannot alone fix the date, but I have the capacity with others to move forward," she said.

Irish Trade Minister Richard Bruton earlier told a news conference Ireland was committed to providing the Commission with a mandate to start talks by June 14.

"We can't predict the outcome, but there is a unique constellation of ambition, need, political will and this is an opportunity that will be seized," he said.

(Additional reporting by Conor Humphries; editing by Andrew Roche)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (3)
pbgd wrote:
It is a foregone conclusion that this free trade zone will never happen. Remember, the Brussels EU is that monstrous bureauracracy which started the chicken war, not to mention the endless banana war that took eight years to resolve.

Apr 18, 2013 3:15pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Greenspan2 wrote:
Good for France. America has already exported enough toxic investment products, and trade agreements will be more of the same “race to the bottom” that generates profits for global corporations at the expense of nations and communities. The small supposed projected “growth” is not worth the loss and destruction that will accompany these additional “profits” that will be siphoned off by a few.

Apr 18, 2013 3:41pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
ChickenWarVet wrote:
Tell me about it, pgbd. I served two years in the Chicken War and still wake up screaming from the nightmares.

Apr 19, 2013 2:03pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.