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France seeks 'clarifications' after Trump-Juncker meeting

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Paris (AFP)

France is seeking "clarifications" over measures agreed between President Donald Trump and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker to ease a trade spat, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Thursday, stressing his opposition to a blanket trade agreement.

"France has always said that we must avoid a trade war because there would only be losers," Le Maire told AFP.

"It is therefore good to return to dialogue with the Americans on trade matters," he said, while calling for clarifications on the measures agreed in Washington on Wednesday.

"A good trade discussion can only take place on clear grounds and cannot move forward under pressure," he said, striking a more cautious tone than the German government which hailed the talks as a "breakthrough".

Le Maire reiterated his stance that it would be impossible to negotiate an overreaching deal covering all trade between the US and Europe.

Such a prospect had been raised by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last weekend when the close Trump ally said Washington would demand a wide-ranging trade deal with Europe in order to stand back on its tariff threat.

"We would not want to enter into negotiations for a major deal -- we've seen the limits of that with the TTIP," Le Maire said of talks for a transatlantic free-trade deal which stalled two years ago.

Agriculture must remain "outside the discussion", he insisted, due to different health and safety standards on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

"We have high sanitary, food and environmental standards and rules of production to which we are very attached, because they guarantee the protection and security of our consumers," Le Maire said.

"Europe will not compromise on these norms."

Le Maire demanded that the US open its markets in industries under discussion, complaining that they remained "largely closed" to European companies.

Trump and Juncker agreed to "launch a new phase" in the US-EU relationship and "to work together towards zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods," the American president said.

Washington will not follow through with a threat to impose tariffs on car imports -- a relief for Germany in particular -- and the EU has made a commitment to buy US soybeans and natural gas.

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