US to blame for trade talks failure: French minister
U.S. protectionism is being blamed by French and German government ministers for important free trade talks between the U.S. and the European Union teetering on the brink of collapse.
"Those who are protectionist are Americans, Europe is very open," Matthias Fekl, France's Minister of State for Foreign Trade, Tourism and French Nationals Abroad, told CNBC on Monday.
France is prepared to walk away from the negotiations for the high-profile Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) if no progress is made, he added.
Fekl's comments come after Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's Vice-Chancellor, said over the weekend that TTIP has failed, but "nobody is really admitting it". Gabriel is likely to be campaigning against pro-TTIP Chancellor Angela Merkel next year.
Later on Monday, a spokesperson for the European Commission insisted the "ball is still rolling" on the deal.
TTIP - and its Asia-Pacific equivalent, the Trans-Pacific Partnership - are a key tenet of the President Barack Obama's policies and are designed to make trade simpler by eliminating many of the tariffs in place to protect particular goods and industries. However, they have become a target for fears about the potential negative fallout from globalization.
The political tide has been turning against TTIP and TTP for some time, with U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump pledging to "never sign any trade agreement which hurts our workers or which diminishes our freedom and independence" – a swipe at TTIP.
While increased trade and the removal of barriers to trade appear on one hand to benefit both sides of the agreement, negotiations have stalled over whether the benefits would be evenly distributed.
There has been a substantial grassroots campaign in Germany against the deal, fuelled by concerns that the agreement might lower the standards of goods, cause job losses or allow greater powers to big business to sue governments. France's President Francois Hollande has also criticized the deal for favoring the interests of U.S. businesses over Europeans.
The groundswell of opposition is part of a growing mistrust of elites and globalization around the world, including the surprise vote in June for the U.K. to leave the EU – which means it will not be part of TTIP. The U.K. would have been up to £10 billion a year better off under TTIP if it had stayed within the EU, according to the U.K. business group the Confederation of British Industry.