Reuters | Thu Apr 18, 2013
France threatens to block start of EU/U.S. free trade talks
By Philip Blenkinsop
(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)