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Last Updated : Jun 18, 2013 12:52 PM IST | Source: ft.com

EU-US trade talks begin even as French continue to bicker

Barack Obama, US president, and European leaders on Monday launched talks on "the biggest bilateral trade deal in history" that were overshadowed by a row over "reactionary" French protectionism.


Barack Obama, US president, and European leaders on Monday launched talks on "the biggest bilateral trade deal in history" that were overshadowed by a row over "reactionary" French protectionism.


Mr Obama announced that talks on a transatlantic trade and investment deal would begin in Washington next month; EU leaders admit the negotiations will be "difficult" but believe they can wrap them up within two years.


David Cameron, British prime minister, claimed an agreement would be bigger than all other bilateral trade deals on the table put together, worth USD 100bn for the EU, USD 80bn for the US and USD 85bn for the rest of the world.


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But the formal launch of the talks at a Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland was soured by claims that France's attempts to defend its films and music from a US cultural invasion would hinder the talks.


Weeks of European tensions over the trade talks came to the surface when Jos Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, lambasted France for refusing to include audio-visual services in the negotiations, claiming French fears were "culturally extremely reactionary"


French president Franois Hollande, speaking on arrival in Northern Ireland for the start of the G8 summit said he "did not want to believe" what Mr Barroso had said.


Meanwhile Jean-Christophe Cambadlis, a national secretary of Mr Hollande's Socialist party, said the were "bewildering and intolerable" and that should "retract his comments or quit".


The head of the EU's executive laid bare his frustration - shared by the US, Britain and Germany - in an interview with the International Herald Tribune.


"Some say they belong to the left, but in fact they are culturally extremely reactionary," Mr Barroso said, in what appeared to be a clear swipe at the socialist government of President Fran�ois Hollande.


Although he did not specifically name France, Mr Barroso said critics of liberalised trade in films and music had "no understanding of the benefits that globalisation brings also from a cultural point of view".


Mr Barroso's spokesman said his comments were aimed at critics of the commission's liberal stance, not the Hollande government.


Although EU negotiators hope they may be able to introduce audio-visual services into the talks at a later stage, Paris's blockade looks set to continue. That will have uncertain consequences with the US likely to retaliate by refusing to lift trade barriers in other sectors, such as in public procurement.


Mr Obama said the talks would be "sensitive" but that politicians should "look beyond narrow concerns and focus on the big picture" of a trade deal covering countries representing half of the world's economy.


Mr Barroso said he hoped to see "rapid progress" and British diplomats say they hope an agreement - which aims to sweep away regulatory barriers to trade - could be concluded within 12-18 months.


He admitted that agricultural protectionism in Europe could be a stumbling block, while Europeans hope to win easier access to the American aviation market.



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First Published on Jun 18, 2013 12:52 pm
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