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Transatlantic trade partnership

Published on October 14, 2014
Interview given by M. Matthias Fekl, Minister of State for Foreign Trade, the Promotion of Tourism and French Nationals Abroad, to the daily newspaper Libération
Paris, October 11, 2014

Q. – What’s your reaction to the decision to publicize the negotiating mandate [for talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP]?

THE MINISTER – It was my first demand after being appointed to work with Laurent Fabius. An agreement has been reached. Our active efforts have paid off. Along with my European colleagues in Rome next week, I’ll again be mentioning the issue of transparency in trade negotiations. There can be no opaque negotiations. Parliaments must have a right to look at these mandates, and the negotiations must be the subject of regular reports. We must also get civil society heavily involved in the various stages of this negotiation.

Q. – How?

THE MINISTER – For the past two years, the government has been opting for dialogue. We can still improve our forums. That’s why my second decision was to overhaul the strategic monitoring committee on the transatlantic partnership. It will now be composed of two colleges: one for members of Parliament, the other for civil society.
Unions and voluntary organizations like Attac will now be part of that monitoring committee. I’ll convene it at the end of October.

Q. – They want an end to the negotiations…

THE MINISTER – Some fears are justified, others not. Let’s put things on the table and open up the debate. The public must be involved in the negotiations. Everything must be clear. It’s natural to put democracy into trade negotiations.

Q. – In what form?

THE MINISTER – I have no preconceptions. We must give access to information, to where the negotiations are at. Citizens must be informed! That’s the reason behind the overhaul of the committee.

Q. – Isn’t it illusory to want so much transparency?

THE MINISTER – If the Europeans are the only ones to reveal their strategic negotiation targets, it would of course be counterproductive.
So the subject must be put on the European and above all the international agenda. I’ve had interesting initial discussions in Brussels. In many countries – and not only European ones – there’s a democratic maturity on the part of civil society, which takes on subjects, knows them and wants to get involved.

Q. – On what conditions will France sign this treaty?

THE MINISTER – We’re still far from signing. I think we must leave ourselves time to have a democratic debate. The President and Prime Minister have set out red lines: cultural diversity, public services, the broadcasting sector, food, and collective preferences in general. For France, not everything is negotiable.

Q. – Has France put a figure on how much such an agreement may bring in?

THE MINISTER – There aren’t any indisputable calculations, but we have strong offensive interests. For a start I’m thinking of access to US markets, including at federal states level: it would be a very important lever for growth. We’re also competitive when it comes to certain sectors for which quite high tariff barriers still exist: dairy products, textiles, etc. The United States has a very dynamic economy, and we could benefit from its demand. A well-negotiated agreement could be beneficial to our SMEs.

Q. – What is France’s position on “arbitration tribunals”?

THE MINISTER – A consultation is under way at European level. We’ll know the results of this in November. I’ll be paying it close attention.
Many fundamental issues are being raised: the right of states to regulate, accessibility of justice, independence of arbitrators, etc.

The German Social Democrats don’t want arbitration tribunals, particularly in the EU-Canada agreement (CETA)…

These measures aren’t new: they exist in many bilateral agreements France itself has signed, because it’s in our interest to defend our investors. It’s a complicated point in the discussion. If you look sector by sector, CETA is positive for the French economy: among other things, it will allow – if it’s adopted – access to Canadian procurement markets, including at federal states level. That’s a first. It will protect French products with 42 recognized French geographical indications.
These are substantial advances, among others. But the question of investor-state arbitration is clearly on the table./.

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