Francois Hollande.jpg
Photograph: HINA/ STA/ Stanko GRUDEN/ ik

French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday became the latest European leader to speak out against the free trade deal being negotiated with the United States, saying the talks would not meet an end-of-year deadline.

"Negotiations have stalled," he said. "The imbalance is obvious."

But EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom rejected his assessment, insisting that the talks are progressing.

"They are very difficult, of course. We knew that from the beginning, but they have not failed," she told journalists in Brussels.

Hollande's comments come after France's minister of state for trade had said that Paris would request in the coming months that the European Commission stop negotiations on the trade deal.

"There is no longer any political support from France for these negotiations," said Matthias Fekl on French radio station RMC.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the US would create the world's largest free trade area, but it has been plagued by criticism on both sides of the Atlantic.

TTIP negotiations have been ongoing for more than three years, with both sides aiming to reach the outlines of an agreement before 2017, when US President Barack Obama leaves office, and both France and Germany gear up for elections.

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel kicked off the latest round of criticism in an interview Sunday, saying the talks had "effectively failed."

On Tuesday, Gabriel - who heads the left-leaning Social Democrats in Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government - repeated his scepticism, saying: "I think the Americans actively ended TTIP through their simple unwillingness to make concessions to the Europeans."

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was also less than optimistic, saying to business interests at a conference Tuesday that he wasn't expecting much movement on the talks in light of the US elections in November and the presidential candidates' statements.

Malmstrom said she was "surprised" to hear that some are calling for an end to the negotiations, noting that this was a decision for all 28 member states.

While recognizing that the debate on TTIP is "very emotional and strong" in many countries including Germany, France and Austria, the trade commissioner said the "silent majority" believes it is a good idea to facilitate trade with the EU's most important partner.

Malmstrom said she was due Tuesday to hold a video conference with US Trade Representative Mike Froman, adding that they would meet in Brussels later this month to prepare the October negotiation round.

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