French business lobby groups urge extension of EU-U.S. trade talks

A worker adjusts EU and U.S. flags at the start of the 2nd round of EU-US trade negociations at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels

PARIS (Reuters) – French business lobbies called on Thursday for the extension of talks between the European Union and the United States on a free trade deal, even as the French government called for an end to the negotiations.

Trade ministers from EU countries will meet in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava on Friday to discuss the issue, which has raised deep concerns among several member states.

Washington and Brussels are officially committed to sealing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) before U.S. President Barack Obama leaves office in January, but their chances of doing so are being eroded by approaching elections on both sides of the Atlantic and Britain’s vote in June to leave the European Union.

“The French industrial, services and trade companies (…) are asking for the extension of the negotiations between the EU and the United States until they reach ambitious and balanced results on all subjects,” 12 business groups, including the Medef employers association, said in a joint statement.

“Simply giving up on this transatlantic project of historical significance, after only three years of negotiations, appears to us as an extremely serious decision (…),” they said, even as they deemed the current United States’ proposals as “unacceptable”, notably regarding the access by European companies to U.S. markets.

French Trade Minister Matthias Fekl said last month that he would request a halt to TTIP talks at Friday’s trade ministers’ meeting after German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel declared that talks were “de facto dead”.

(Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain; Editing by Toby Chopra)