France presses for delay in US-EU trade talks over NSA spying

The French government is requesting a two-week delay in talks on a massive U.S.-European Union trade agreement over allegations the National Security Agency eavesdropped on allies across the Atlantic. 

“It seems wise to us to suspend [the talks] temporarily, for a period of 15 days,” French government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem told reporters Wednesday, according to news reports. 

French President François Hollande made a similar suggestion on Monday when he demanded the U.S. immediately stop the eavesdropping or risk the future of the long-awaited talks, scheduled to begin next week, between the world's two largest trading partners. 

The disclosures over the NSA’s secret surveillance were the latest from Edward Snowden, a former government contractor, who revealed classified information detailing programs collecting phone and Internet data to root out terror suspects.

The German magazine Der Spiegel on Sunday said leaked documents showed the U.S. had spied on EU offices in Washington, New York and Brussels.

France has been a reluctant participant in preliminary trade negotiations so far and the ream of questions around the surveillance activities have further intensified the nation's protests. 

Hollande’s government is facing pressure from other political groups, which have sought to stoke public anger over the spying. 

French officials, though, face an uphill fight to delay the trade talks.

The European Commission says that despite questions about the spying allegations, the talks for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which are set to start on Monday in Washington, would go ahead as planned.

In a Tuesday statement, the EU said it "will make it clear that for such a comprehensive and ambitious negotiation to succeed, there needs to be confidence, transparency and clarity among the negotiating partners."

The effort to stall is even less likely to succeed because the EU agreed last month on a mandate to start the talks, while making a deal with France that pushed for exclusion for its film and cultural industries, citing concerns about Hollywood's reach. 

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said that jeopardizing the talks would only hurt the 28-nation EU, which wants the trade agreement to boost its economies, which have been battling a financial crisis in recent years. 

Although there is some concern from U.S. stakeholders, most believe the spying controversy will blow over and won't ultimately hamper the trade deal. And there is plenty of momentum that a comprehensive trade deal will create a $5 trillion trading zone and benefit the global economy. 

"The U.S. and EU must seize this moment to capitalize to the fullest on this global leadership opportunity, as the rewards will be enormous," said Michael Ducker, COO and president of International for FedEx Express, in an email to The Hill. 

"We encourage the TTIP negotiators to adopt and implement best practices to better facilitate trade and harmonize regulations affecting international commerce," he said. 

"Ensuring unfettered market access and open and fair competition among delivery service providers will lead to greater economic efficiencies in the U.S. and EU for businesses and customers alike."