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US, Europe to start ambitious, delicate trade talks

President Obama said, “The US-EU relationship is the largest in the world.”

Andrew Winning/Associated Press/pool

President Obama said, “The US-EU relationship is the largest in the world.”

ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland — European Union leaders and President Obama on Monday announced the start of negotiations for a far-reaching trans-Atlantic trade deal, but French indignation over recent remarks by the head of the European Commission created its own trade-talks sideshow here at the Group of Eight meeting.

Obama said the first round of negotiations would begin in Washington next month between the United States and the 27-nation Europe Union.

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“The US-EU relationship is the largest in the world — it makes up almost half of global GDP,” Obama said, adding that “this potentially groundbreaking partnership would deepen those ties.”

But France’s president, François Hollande, arrived in Northern Ireland expressing disbelief at comments made over the weekend by the European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso.

In an interview with The International Herald Tribune/New York Times, Barroso had criticized France’s insistence on protecting its film and television industries as a condition of supporting the trade negotiations.

“I do not want to believe that the president of the European Commission could have made the statements about France, or even about the artists, that were made,” said Hollande, according to the websites of several French news organizations.

Hollande did not make an appearance in a steamy media tent here at the Lough Erne Resort, where Obama and Barroso made statements about the trade talks along with Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, and David Cameron, the British prime minister.

French reporters said Hollande was busy preparing for his meeting later with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Aside from trade, the two-day G-8 meeting is likely to be dominated by tensions over how to deal with the crisis in Syria and to focus on measures to clamp down on tax evasion and the legal ruses used by multinational companies to limit their tax liabilities.

A European Union-US trade deal has been a longstanding ambition of policy makers.

According to the European Commission, the executive arm of the 27-nation bloc, such a deal would allow European companies to sell an additional $250 billion worth of goods and services a year to the United States.

The angry French response highlights the sensitivity of the trade negotiations, which will aim to reduce trans-Atlantic tariffs and streamline regulations to stimulate economic growth in the United States and Europe.

Barroso’s comments were described as “scandalous and dangerous” in a statement Monday from the French Socialist Party.

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