France wants halt to 'imbalanced' EU-US trade deal talks

FILE - In this April 23, 2016 file picture a man walking on stilts and dressed like the Statue of Liberty attends a protest against the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, ahead of the visit of United States President Barack Obama in Hannover, Germany. Germany’s economy minister Sigmar Gabriel said Sunday Aug. 28, 2016 that free trade talks between the European Union and the United States have failed, citing lack of progress on any of the major chapters of the long-running negotiations. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber.file)

PARIS — The French government wants the European Union to end talks with the U.S. on forging a sweeping trade deal that it sees as too friendly to U.S. businesses.

French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that talks on a landmark trade deal between the U.S. and European Union are unbalanced and cannot be completed before President Barack Obama leaves office.

"France prefers to look things in the face," Hollande said in a diplomatic speech. "These discussions cannot result in an agreement by the end of the year. The negotiations have bogged down, the positions have not been respected, the imbalance is obvious."

It's the latest blow to the proposed free-trade zone that would encompass half the world's economy. There's resistance on both continents, and the talks are complicated by Britain's planned exit from the 28-nation EU and upcoming presidential elections in the U.S. and France.

On Sunday, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said "in my opinion, the negotiations with the United States have de facto failed, even though nobody is really admitting it."

Hollande's trade chief, Matthias Fekl, accused the American side of offering just "crumbs." He said earlier Tuesday that France will ask the European Commission at a meeting in Slovakia next month to halt talks on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Fekl, France's secretary of state for foreign trade, said talks could resume if wider EU-U.S. trade relations improved.

"We need a clear, clean, definitive halt to negotiations to be able to resume on a good basis," Fekl said on RMC radio, without elaborating on what conditions would be necessary for new talks.

Not all agree that the talks have failed.

Chief EU negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero played down Gabriel's talk of failure. And in Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the goal of the Obama administration to complete negotiations has not changed despite the criticism.

He said United State Trade Representative Michael Froman would be traveling to Europe in the coming weeks to continue negotiations.

"He was there in July. He'll be back in September, and all in pursuit of the goal the president has laid out to try and complete these negotiations before the end of the year," Earnest said.

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