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The European Union should exclude defense from upcoming free trade talks because the United States has essentially closed its procurement to foreign companies, France's trade minister said Monday.
"We know that the American public market is tightly closed and so we will not agree to opening our market while the American defense market is closed," French Trade Minister Nicole Bricq told AFP.
"We have the willingness of other member states to exclude anything dealing with defense from the negotiations."
Bricq's comments come as the United States and Europe continue to do battle at the World Trade Organization over government subsidies to the civil aircraft industry in a massive case involving Boeing and Airbus, which spent nearly a decade disputing a controversial US Air Force tanker contract.
However, the problem goes far beyond the Boeing-Airbus dispute, a spokeswoman for Bricq said, noting that the WTO rates the openness of the European public defense market at 90 percent while US defense procurement ranks at just 32 percent.
Britain has already expressed a desire to keep defense off the table and France is working to find other partners, the spokeswoman added.
The European Union and the United States intend to begin talks within months on an ambitious transatlantic free trade deal that would create the world's largest free trade area, boosting economic growth and jobs.
With much of Europe in recession and the US recovery uncertain, leaders on both sides of the Atlantic have looked at the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership as a way to spur growth and create jobs.
Research conducted for the European Commission estimated that the deal would quickly provide a 119 billion euro a year boost for the EU and 95 billion euros in additional gains for the United States.
Bricq expressed strong support for the talks, but said any deal must include strong social and environmental protections and regulations.
"We Europeans want to find the right compromise which satisfies both partners, but we also have to be very careful because, with 40 percent of global commerce, this would serve as a global reference for other nations," she said.
France is also determined to protect its cultural industries, particularly film and television, by excluding them from the free trade talks.
Genetically-modified food is also expected to be among the most contentious subjects in the talks.
While negotiations will likely be "long and difficult," a free trade deal would be in the interest of both parties, Bricq said, adding that Europe is coming to the table in a position of strength.
"It's not an accident that so many countries want to make trade deals with Europe," she said in an interview.
"Yes, we have economic problems and very weak growth, but we also have high standards, which are more of a competitive advantage than a constraint, and we also have a capacity to consume goods and services that is unique in the world."
Bricq was speaking on the sidelines of a biotechnology conference in Chicago ahead of meetings in Washington Tuesday with representatives of President Barack Obama's trade negotiations team, two US congressmen and leaders of the environmental and labor movements.
The purpose of her trip to Washington is to gauge whether the United States is ready to approach the talks as equal partners and whether the US Congress will support a deal, she said.
"The term partnership has a very precise meaning to us," she said. "It means that we will negotiate equal to equal with common objectives."
Since there are significant differences between the parties, the European Commission must prepare carefully for the talks to ensure the deal doesn't unravel at the last minute, she said.
"Negotiations must be serious. You can't get into a position of weakness by rushing in," she said. "When you negotiate, you mustn't be pressed."