France has warned that it may block talks on a planned free trade agreement between the European Union (EU) and Australia amid the diplomatic row triggered by the announcement of the AUKUS security alliance.
“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,” France’s European affairs secretary Clément Beaune was cited as saying by Politico.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen emphasized earlier that the situation with the scrapped submarine deal must be clarified “before you keep on going with business as usual.”
“One of our member states has been treated in a way that is not acceptable, so we want to know what happened and why,” von der Leyen said in a CNN interview.
The three-way pact, announced on 15 September, generated backlash from France. Paris claimed that it had been blindsided by the deal that would see the US and UK help Australia build nuclear-powered submarines. Canberra has been accused of delivering Paris a “stab in the back” by reneging on its multi-billion dollar conventional submarine deal with France.
As part of the security pact, known as AUKUS, Australia will be supplied with the technology to construct a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, considered to be superior to the conventionally powered vessels Canberra had previously agreed to buy from Paris. In response to the move, France recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia on Friday.
Launched back in June 2018, negotiations on a free trade agreement between the 27-country European Union bloc and Australia, its third largest trading partner in 2020, have witnessed 11 rounds.
The next scheduled round of talks on a deal that would remove barriers to exports and intellectual property rights is slated for October. However, European Commission chief spokesperson Eric Mamer has been cited as saying they were currently analyzing “the impact that the AUKUS announcement would have on this schedule.”