PARIS, March 25 France threatened on Monday to
delay the swift start of EU-U.S. trade talks if its red lines on
culture and farm produce are not respected.
Brussels and Washington hope to start negotiations in June
on a transatlantic free-trade agreement that would encompass
almost half the world's economy, and are seeking as broad a deal
as possible to deliver strong economic growth.
The negotiating mandate proposed earlier this month by the
European Commission, which has kept its contents secret, must be
approved by EU governments before the talks can start.
"It is out of the question to work with a mandate that is
hurriedly put together," Trade Minister Nicole Bricq told a news
conference. "We want a deal but we shouldn't rush into talks."
In particular, a European Commission proposal to further
open up European culture markets was "not acceptable," said
France's support is crucial as a similar drive in the 1990s
collapsed in the face of French resistance. While France is on
board this time around, its enthusiasm is more muted than among
free-trade advocates Britain and Germany.
"We want to exclude from the deal anything that is about
culture... that's non-negotiable," Bricq said, referring to
French laws that allow the government to restrict foreign radio
and television programmes and subsidise French films.
Asked about the June target, Bricq said: "If the Commission
agrees to take out its reference to culture why not, but it's a
Bricq said France would be as firm on its demand to exclude
genetically modified products in food, and hormones in meat.
France has made protecting its film, television and music a
priority in international trade talks for more than 20 years,
insisting that culture should be treated differently to other
The United States and the European Commission hope for a
free-trade deal by the end of 2014 -- a tight deadline in
complex international trade talks that usually take years.
But Bricq warned that talks would be long and might last
Bricq, who met French businesses on Monday to discuss the
planned EU-US trade pact, said most of them backed launching the
talks although the audiovisual sector asked to be exempted.
Protracted talks on an EU-Canada trade deal, for which an
initial end-2011 timeline has slipped, show that it was
important to agree a firm mandate before starting negotiations,
she said. "For Canada, the mandate was very weak," she said.
The two sides disagree on issues related to farm exports,
intellectual property and cultural diversity, French Prime
Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said this month.
(Reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey; Additional reporting by Robin
Emmott in Brussels; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by