Talks over the hugely controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the US are in danger as France pushes for an end to negotiations and a German minister says they have failed.
French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday became the latest European leader to speak out against the free trade agreement, saying talks would not meet their deadline.
"Negotiations have stalled," he said. "The imbalance is obvious."
Earlier on Tuesday, France's chief negotiator, minister of state for trade Matthias Fekl, had said that Paris would request in September that the European Commission stop negotiations on the trade deal.
"There is no longer any political support from France for these negotiations," Fekl told French radio station RMC. "There should be an absolute clear end so that we can restart them on good basis," he added
In May, Hollande already expressed his skepticism about the negotiations, saying he would "never accept" the deal in its current guise because of the rules it enforces on France and the rest of Europe. He mainly criticized plans to deregulate farming and culture, claiming they were too friendly to US businesses.
"We will never accept questioning essential principles for our agriculture, our culture and for the reciprocity of access to public [procurement] markets," Hollande said.
German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel kicked off the latest round of criticism in an interview Sunday, saying that the talks had "effectively failed."
On Tuesday, he repeated his comments, blaming the US for the failure. "I think the Americans actively ended TTIP because they weren't prepared to make compromises with Europeans," he told a news conference in Berlin.
Gabriel noted that after 14 rounds of talks, the two sides have yet to agree on even one chapter of the 27 being discussed. One of the reasons given for the breakdown in negotiations was that "we Europeans did not want to subject ourselves to American demands," he added.
EU Commission vows to push ahead
In response to Gabriel's comments, a spokesman for the EU Commission said Monday that the bloc's executive was determined to continue negotiations.
"Although trade talks take time, the ball is rolling right now and the Commission is making steady progress in the ongoing TTIP negotiations," European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a news conference.
EU trade ministers will discuss the issue in Bratislava on Sept. 22. Schinas said the Commission was still ready to finalize the deal by the end of the year, but not at the expense of "Europe's safety, health, social and data protection standards, or our cultural diversity."
The EU and US began working on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in 2013, aiming to create the world's largest free trade area by the time President Barack Obama leaves office in January next year.
uhe/cjc (AFP, Reuters)