France rules out imminent EU-US trade deal, wants talks halted

Paris (AFP) - France said Tuesday it wanted to halt thorny EU-US trade talks as President Francois Hollande underlined there would be no deal until after President Barack Obama leaves office in January.

But the White House said it still hoped to wrap up negotiations by the year's end to create the world's largest free trade area.

"Our position on this has not changed," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. "We are continuing to work toward a goal of completing those negotiations before the end of the year."

The EU commissioner in charge of the negotiations said talks have not broken down and the aim is still a deal by the time Obama leaves office.

But French junior trade minister Matthias Fekl said there was "no more political support in France" for the talks because US negotiators were offering "nothing or just crumbs".

"France calls for an end to these negotiations," Fekl told RMC radio.

Hollande, in a speech to France's diplomatic corps, chose his words more carefully saying it would be an "illusion" to say a deal was close.

"The current discussions on the treaty between Europe and the United States will not lead to an agreement by the end of the year," he said.

"France would rather see things as they are and not harbour the illusion that an agreement will be struck before the end of the US president's term in office."

EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem however said that she did not agree that the negotiations had failed.

"They have been difficult, of course, we knew from the beginning, but they have not failed," she said.

Germany's vice chancellor and economy minister Sigmar Gabriel had said Sunday the negotiations were effectively dead.

"The talks with the US have de facto failed because we Europeans of course must not succumb to American demands... nothing is moving forward", Gabriel said.

The EU Commission and US negotiators began work on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in 2013.

But the talks have become bogged down amid widespread suspicion in the 28-nation EU that a deal would undercut the bloc's standards in key areas such as health and welfare.

Malmstroem admitted there would be no deal by the end of this year as originally envisaged when the talks started.

"I don't want to analyse the mind and the intentions of President Hollande. And it is clear that for the moment we do not have enough -- we can't conclude before the end of the year," the Swede said.

She said the aim was still to conclude a deal under the Obama presidency, adding: "And if that is not possible it makes sense to make as much progress as possible."

However Fekl said Paris sees an imbalance in the negotiations in favour of the US side.

"The Americans give nothing or just crumbs... that is not how negotiations are done between allies," he said.

- 'Clear and definitive halt' -

"We need a clear and definitive halt to these negotiations in order to restart on a good foundation."

France will make its case for the talks to be halted at a meeting of foreign trade ministers in Bratislava in September, Fekl added.

He did not say when or under what conditions the talks could restart.

Germany's Gabriel on Tuesday said that "given the current state of the talks, no agreement is possible".

"We'll see if the US position changes after the presidential election. If there is no change, there will be no TTIP," he said.

Activists who have opposed TTIP since negotiations began say the deal would only benefit multinationals and harm consumers.

Behind the scenes, top diplomats have told AFP talks may be suspended until after the US presidential election in November and could even be put on hold until after elections in France and Germany next year.

The White House spokesman meanwhile said Obama will send his top trade official to Europe in the coming weeks for further discussions.

"There are significant aspects of the deal that need to be negotiated, but that's precisely why the president is sending his trade ambassador, Mike Froman, to travel to Europe in a couple of weeks to go continue those negotiations," he said.

All EU member states and the European parliament must ratify any TTIP deal before it can take effect.