[PARIS] The chances of reaching agreement over an ambitious US-EU free trade deal are "fading", France's minister of state for foreign trade said on Tuesday.
Asked about the likelihood of such a deal being reached before the end of US President Barack Obama's term in January 2017, Matthias Fekl told France's RTL: "No, I don't think so. The likelihood, or risk, of reaching any accord is fading."
His remarks were made a day after US and European negotiators began a 13th round of talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in New York, which are expected to last a week.
Mr Fekl is France's envoy to the talks.
TTIP aims to ease non-trade barriers and harmonise bureaucratic rules that impede commerce and investment between the European Union and the United States.
Should the agreement succeed, it would create the world's largest free-trade zone.
Earlier this week, US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a joint pitch for more transatlantic trade, vowing to complete the US-EU pact in the face of mounting opposition in Europe.
On the eve of his visit, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Germany against the proposed pact which has raised fears it would erode ecological and labour market standards, and in protest over the secrecy shrouding the talks.
TTIP also face a threat in the form of a British referendum on exiting the EU which is to take place in June.
As one of the largest trading economies of the bloc, Britain would play a major role in the pact, but if it votes to leave the EU, it could deal a devastating blow to TTIP's prospects.
It has also invoked growing anti-free trade talk in the US presidential election race and growing suspicions among the American public because details of the talks are secret.