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France urges delay to EU-US trade talks
France said free-trade talks between the European Union and the United States should be delayed by two weeks given tensions over media reports that Washington is spying on the 28-nation bloc.
The proposal for a delay was deflected by the European Commission in Brussels and by EU economic powerhouse Germany, both of which argued that the first round of negotiations should start as scheduled on Monday in Washington.
France only agreed to launching the talks after winning assurances that entertainment and other cultural sectors be excluded from negotiations on what could emerge as the world’s most ambitious free trade deal.
French President Francois Hollande said last week that if true, the spying allegations published by German magazine Der Spiegel could hinder U.S. relations with the European Union, which has demanded explanations from Washington.
“It’s not a question of halting the negotiations,” French government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem told a weekly media briefing. “On the other hand, it would seem wise to us to suspend them for a couple of weeks to avoid any controversy and have the time to obtain the information we’ve asked for.”
She said Paris would discuss the matter with European partners in the days ahead.
The row threatens a new setback for a trade deal that could boost the EU and U.S. economies by more than $100 billion each per year after Paris earlier threatened to block talks unless its movies and online entertainment were ring-fenced.
In Brussels, EU trade spokesman John Clancy said the European’s Commission position was to go ahead with the talks.
“Individual member states are free to do whatever they would like, but our line is clear from yesterday,” he told Reuters, adding: “That is the position of all the commissioners.”
Berlin has said that bugging friends would be unacceptable behaviour in a post Cold War-era, but a government spokesman told Reuters Germany still supports starting the talks on Monday as planned.
The revelations about the U.S. surveillance programme were made public by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, now a fugitive believed to be in the transit area of a Moscow airport as he tries to find a country that will protect him from prosecution in the United States on espionage charges. (Reuters)
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