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France stalls start of EU trade talks with US

Brussels

EUROPEAN Union ambassadors put off giving the green light for trade talks with the US as France continues to withhold its consent, according to two officials familiar with the deliberations.

The envoys could still approve the mandate in the next several days to allow the bloc's trade commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, to negotiate cuts in industrial tariffs with the US, the officials said on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was behind closed doors.

France is stalling over wording on the environment and on a previous, now-shelved, plan for a broader trans-Atlantic commercial deal. The EU envoys plan to take up the matter again no later than April 11, said the two people.

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Ms Malmstrom is rushing to begin deliberations with the US on slashing industrial tariffs in a bid to show Mr Trump progress by the EU in enacting a July 2018 political accord that he reached with her boss, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. The Trump administration has expressed angst at the delays from the EU and has underscored its willingness to use its leverage to speed the pace of negotiations.

The deal between Mr Trump and Mr Juncker suspended the threat of US levies on EU cars and auto parts that would be based on the same national-security grounds used by the US president to apply controversial duties last year on foreign steel and aluminum. At the same time, the pact struck almost nine months ago expressed a desire to resolve the dispute over the American metal levies, which prompted the European side to retaliate with tit-for-tat duties.

Ms Malmstrom signalled on March 21 that she expected to receive the go-ahead in April from EU governments for negotiations with Washington. She requested the mandate in mid-January.

Once EU ambassadors give their backing, the mandate would be added to the agenda of a meeting of member-country ministers for a rubber stamp. The ministerial go-ahead could occur on April 15. BLOOMBERG