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France eyes halt to EU-US free trade talks

A top French trade official has warned that negotiations for an EU-US free-trade pact may have reached an impasse due to Washington's reluctance to make concessions, revealed in leaked documents recently.

A halt in negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was a "likely option," French minister of state for trade, Matthias Fekl said Tuesday, renewing earlier suggestions that the EU-US free-trade talks should be scrapped in the absence of further progress.

"Given the approach being taken by the United States today, [a halt] is the most likely option," Fekl told Europe 1 radio.

Underscoring that Europe was pushing for "reciprocity" in the negotiations, Fekl said: "Europe is offering a lot and we are getting very little in return. This is unacceptable. It is a deal that - in the state it is in today - would be a bad deal."

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Deep suspicion

Fekl is France's chief negotiator in TTIP and has been particularly vocal about what he sees as

a lack of movement in Washington's position

.

His intervention came a day after Greenpeace called for the talks to stop, citing concerns a deal would compromise food safety. The group argued that the proposed pact would relinquish too much power to big business at the expense of consumers and national governments.

Greenpeace also released a series of leaked documents about the closed-door negotiations, supporting its view. However, the EU Commission, which negotiates trade deals on behalf of its 28 member states, said Greenpeace was

"flatly wrong" in its interpretation of the documents

, and described the group's outrage as a "storm in a teacup."

US Trade Representative Michael Froman also criticized Greenpeace, calling the interpretations

"misleading at best and flat out wrong at worst."

"TTIP will preserve, not undermine, our strong consumer, health, environmental standards, and position the US and the EU to work together to push standards higher around the world," he added.

Negotiated since 2013, TTIP aims to create a free-trade zone covering 850 million people on both sides of the Atlantic. Washington and Brussels want the deal completed this year before US President Barack Obama leaves office, but it is facing mounting opposition in both the US and Europe.

uhe/jd (Reuters, AFP)

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