French set for U-turn on EU-US trade agreement

The proposed free trade zone between the EU and the US is at the centre of a political struggle in France, with the government looking set to make a U-turn over its stance towards one of the most controversial elements of the agreement.

French set for U-turn on EU-US trade agreement
The EU-US free trade agreement is the cause of much angst in France. Photo: AFP

The controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has long been the cause of angst in France.

The proposed free trade deal between the US and the EU, which is still being negotiated, has been met with fierce opposition in France, particularly from those in the arts industry.

Now it seems France’s politicians cannot agree on which stance to take over the most divisive part of the agreement known as the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS).

The ISDS basically sets the rules for foreign companies investing in other countries and allows an investor to bring a government to court if they have broken an agreement.

Mathias Fekl, France’s Secretary of State for Foreign Trade has repeatedly expressed his government’s opposition to ISDS.

But now it appears France is ready to rethink its position with the website Euractive reporting that the French Secretariat General for European Affairs (SGAE) has written to MEPs warning them not to go against ISDS, when it goes to a vote at the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee on May 6th.

In the letter to SGAE wrote: “Although France believes the inclusion of an ISDS mechanism with the United States is not necessary, the proposed resolution settles the question in too categorical a way. It would be preferable to approach this delicate subject more carefully, and avoid setting a precedent, as the legal standards of some states are not equal to those in the United States.”

French Green MEP Yannick Jadot summed up the confusion which now surrounds the French position on ISDS.

“It’s unclear,” he told Euractiv. “Is France advocating a reform of the arbitration system to adapt it to TTIP, as with the agreement with Canada? Or is France really in favour of excluding it from the trade agreement?”

France’s position on other areas of the trade agreement is more coherent.

Paris is vehemently opposed to inclusion of the audio-visual sector in the agreement, in order to protect its film and TV industry from US completion.

“France will refuse any mandate which does not come with protection of the cultural sector and a clear and explicit exclusion of the audiovisual sector,” said the then commerce minister Nicole Bricq when negotiations first opened in 2013.

Washington and Brussels hope the free trade deal will deliver a major boost to growth and jobs, especially in Europe where the euro debt crisis has left the economy stuck in the doldrums.

An accord would be the world's largest Free Trade Agreement, with bilateral trade in goods last year worth some €500 billion ($670 billion), services worth another €280 billion and investment flows hitting the trillions.

The EU says it would add some €119 billion annually to the EU economy and €95 billion for the United States

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France won’t sacrifice famous cheeses and Champagne for US trade deal

France will never sacrifice its labels such as Champagne and Roquefort as part of any future trade deal between the European Union and the US, says the country's president.

France won't sacrifice famous cheeses and Champagne for US trade deal

President François Hollande vowed Tuesday to defend French labels such as Champagne or Roquefort cheese in any future
US-European Union trade pact.

Underscoring his reticence to rush into a deal, Hollande said an agreement would have to protect the geographical names that are the source of many of France's best known agricultural exports.

“There can be no question of sacrificing our interests to get a deal. Our labels are our heritage,” said the French leader, who has already promised to protect his country's farming sector in any deal.

The European Union and United States are thrashing out plans for a vast free-trade zone, unifying rules and slashing tariffs to create a combinedmarket of 850 million people.

President Barack Obama has pressed for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership to be agreed by the end of the year.

But support for the accord on both sides of the Atlantic appears to be diminishing.

Many activists and professional organisations have lined up against provisions of the pact ranging from food safety to environmental protection, intellectual property rights, the protection of farmers, or the sovereignty of governmental decisions.

One key point in negotiations is the European system of protecting geographically-based product names such as France's Champagne, Roquefort and Camembert or Italy's Gorgonzola cheese.

The United States does not recognise the system, relying instead on trademarks to provide brand protection.

US Trade Representative Michael Froman, speaking in Stockholm, said he was holding out for a deal that satisfied all parties.

“We in the United States very much value European products, French products, and we want to make sure that they have an opportunity to have access to our markets as we want to have access to European markets,” he told a joint news conference with EU trade chief Cecilia Malmstroem.

Malmstroem said the negotiations were difficult, but there was still hope for a deal.

“We think there is still a chance, and we are working in that direction, to do everything we can to achieve this agreement before the end of the year. It is difficult, but it is what we strive for,” she said.