New French cabinet focuses on TTIP

Ottawa’s decision has disappointed Canadian dairy producers and raised fears among their European counterparts.

The French department of foreign trade has moved from the ministry of finance to the ministry of foreign affairs, and with it, TTIP negotiations. The left is alarmed. EURACTIV France reports.

The department of foreign trade was at the centre of a tug of war in the new French government, and eventually changed ministry. It is now, for the first time in history, at the ministry for foreign affairs.

France’s balance of trade has been in the red for 10 years. As the deficit continues to increase, the department of foreign trade proves important to French politicians. However, the government has few significant ways of influencing foreign trade.

The change of ministry is not expected to have a huge impact.

“This is an administration with few resources, the main tools being the customs whose function is taxation. In the end, customs will actually stay at the ministry of finance in Bercy. Moving foreign trade to the ministry of foreign affairs does not take power from the ministry of finance”, said a source in the finance ministry.

Barrels aimed at economic diplomacy

Amongst the most important issues for the next years, and the source of negative reactions in France, are negotiations between the US and Europe on a common market without custom barriers on both sides of the Atlantic.

>> Read: French senators strongly attack EU-US trade deal

Hostility to TTIP has not only been witnessed in France, but across Europe. This has led the European Commission to initiate public consultation on part of the talks.

The change of ministry causes concerns amongst the French left.

A member of the Socialist Party claimed “we are concerned that Laurent Fabius may get carried away with his transatlantic vision and overlook the deal’s basic problems that have already been identified by France.”

France ensured that Brussels was only authorised to negotiate with the US on certain matters. This includes audio-visual services, collective preferences regarding the protections of employees, environment and consumers, as well as public defence. However, other matters still cause debate in France, including the protection of data and cheese.

Those against TTIP fear that these initial obstacles cannot be overcome, especially if companies begin taking action against EU member states.

Valérie Pécresse, French politician with UMP and former Minister of Budget, described moving foreign trade as absurd, and that “business creates jobs, not the ministry for foreign affairs”.

She stated on French television that “we established a ministry for the economy and industry, which was a pretty good idea, and we entrusted it to Arnaud Montebourg with a mission: improve the competitiveness of French businesses, and therefore strengthen France’s role in globalisation. Yet foreign trade now goes to competition policy. We are depriving Arnaud Montebourg of an economic policy instrument: it is absurd.”

The new French minister for the interior, Manuel Valls, started on the 2 April 2014 after local elections won by the French Right. Head of a more effective government, that he describes as “ready for combat”, Manuel Valls will be assisted by second in charge, Laurent Fabius.

France exports less than it imports, which has led to an increasing trade deficit. In 2013, the deficit was €61 billion.

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