France Wary Of ‘Rushed’ EU-US Free Trade Talks

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Although most French companies still favoured a proposed free-trade pact between the European Union and the U.S., France’s trade minister Nicole Bricq warned on Monday that the agreement was being too “hurriedly put together”; and that issues such as culture and agriculture were being overlooked in the process.

Bricq, who was speaking in a news conference in Paris, produced results from a survey of 287 companies and trade associations, which showed that French industrial companies “were very largely in favour” of a Transatlantic Free Trade Pact, but Meat, ethanol, and corn producers had expressed concern.

“There are definite advantages we can gain from these talks, but the EU must come up with a clear and firm mandate,” Bricq said as cited by Bloomberg.

"It is out of the question to work with a mandate that is hurriedly put together…we want a deal but we shouldn't rush into talks,” she added.

Brussels and Washington hope to start negotiations in June for the Transatlantic Free Trade Pact, which will represent almost half of the world's GDP and 40 percent of world trade.

The U.S. and the EU have given themselves two years to complete the talks, though recent rhetoric from both sides suggested that an agreement could even be possible before the end of 2014.

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Germany and Britain in particular have expressed eagerness to conclude the deal as soon as possible, though France led by President François Hollande’s Socialist Party, sounded considerably less enthusiastic.

On March 15, Hollande presented his so-called ‘red lines’ to a deal, warning that his nation would not give up its bans on genetically modified food nor its “cultural exception” – a term used to describe laws mandating a certain level of French content on television and radio.

"We want to exclude from the deal anything that is about culture... that's non-negotiable," said Bricq, according to Reuters. A European Commission proposal to further open up European culture markets was simply "not acceptable," she added.

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Meanwhile, Bricq also suggested that the June deadline for negotiations could also turn out to be too ambitious, as European leaders must first meet to discuss their negotiating position before engaging the U.S.

“This is a very tight schedule,” she said, as cited by the New York Times. Nonetheless, Bricq admitted that a Transatlantic Free Trade Pact would provide a “formidable” lift to jobs and economic growth, though the E.U. must first ensure that it obtained a good deal.