Furious France calls off EU trade talks with Australia over bitter Aukus submarine row

·3-min read
Clement Beaune said: 'Keeping one’s word is the condition of trust between democracies and between allies. So it is unthinkable to move forward on trade negotiations as if nothing had happened with a country in which we no longer trust' - AFP/ Ludovic Marin
Clement Beaune said: 'Keeping one’s word is the condition of trust between democracies and between allies. So it is unthinkable to move forward on trade negotiations as if nothing had happened with a country in which we no longer trust' - AFP/ Ludovic Marin

France has called off European Union trade talks with Australia in the latest escalation of the bitter row between Paris, Canberra, London and Washington over the Aukus security pact.

The deal included an agreement to build nuclear submarines and meant that Australia pulled out of a £72.8billion deal to buy diesel-powered French vessels, which sparked a furious reaction from Emmanuel Macron.

His Europe minister, Clément Beaune, told the Politico Europe website that EU free trade negotiations with Australia would stop.

“Keeping one’s word is the condition of trust between democracies and between allies. So it is unthinkable to move forward on trade negotiations as if nothing had happened with a country in which we no longer trust,” Mr Beaune said.

The European Commission helms trade negotiations on behalf of the EU member states and would make the decision on ditching any talks.

Any finalised trade deal requires the consent of all 27 member states. French opposition will becalm the already difficult talks over market access, especially for Australian agricultural exports such as beef. The trade deal, once agreed, is estimated to be worth far less than the submarine contract.

The European Commission said the next planned round of negotiations with Australia was in October but did not rule out cancelling them.

"We are analysing the impact of the AUKUS announcement and what this impact would be on this schedule," the commission's chief spokesman said.

He said Ursula von der Leyen, the commission president, was in "close contact" with France and other EU countries to "gauge the consequences" of the announcement last Wednesday.

EU foreign ministers will hold informal dinner talks in New York on the margins of the UN General Assembly at 11pm UK time on Monday, which will be the first time the bloc will be able to discuss the AUKUS deal.

"You can expect that this issue will be raised and discussed by the ministers," the spokesman said.

“The willingness to compromise, on the European side, has now certainly decreased,” Bernd Lange, the chair of the European Parliament’s trade committee, told Politico.

The French Ambassador to Australia, Jean-Pierre Thebault, later told an Austalian broadcaster that France was not lobbying EU allies to cancel the trade agreement, which has been under negotiation since 2018, and that "at this stage negotiations do continue".

However, Mr Beaune is known to be close to Emmanuel Macron and served as his senior advisor on EU matters before he was given a ministerial post.

The trade talks, which were already expected to be a long-term project, could simply be resumed after next year’s French presidential elections, which are thought to be a motivating factor in the furious response from the Elysee Palace.

It is the latest symbolic salvo in a diplomatic spat that has seen a UK-France defence summit cancelled and the French ambassadors to the US and Australia recalled. Paris has denied Swiss media reports that a long-planned meeting between the countries' presidents had been called off due to French anger about Bern's decision to purchase US, not French, fighter jets

Mr Beaune has already accused the UK of “vassalage” to Washington and mocked London’s plans for Global Britain.

Earlier on Monday, a British minister said the nuclear sub deal struck between the UK, US and Australia was "not about France".

James Cleverly told Sky News: "With any international relationship there are ups and downs. I have no doubt we will be able to resolve any frictions that there are currently with France... This is Global Britain engaging with the world, working with all partners across the world.”

In contrast to Brussels, the UK has agreed the main element of a future UK-Australia free trade deal. The agreement slashes tariffs on Australian agricultural products over time in return for better access for UK products such as Scotch whisky, biscuits and ceramics.

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