France - United States

France threatens transatlantic trade talks over BNP fine

US President Barack Obama (L) dines with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (2nd R) and President Francois Hollande (R) in Paris
US President Barack Obama (L) dines with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (2nd R) and President Francois Hollande (R) in Paris Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

France declared that the US’s record fine on BNP Paribas could threaten a planned transatlantic trade partnership, as Barack Obama attended D-Day commemorations on Friday. President François Hollande raised the case “in detail” with the US leader over dinner on Thursday.


“This treaty that could be positive for trade can only exist on the basis of reciprocity,” Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius told RTL radio on Friday, adding that the threatened 10-billion-dollar (7.4-billion-euro) fine for sanctions-busting could have “negative consequences” on negotiations.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Fabius made a similar statement earlier in the week and the threat was taken up by Finance Minister Michel Sapin in an interview with Le Monde newspaper.

Hollande “obviously” raised the question “in detail” with Obama at dinner in a Paris restaurant on Thursday evening, officials said.

But Obama had already given the idea that he might intervene the cold shoulder.

"My answer on the banking case is short and simple: The tradition of the United States is that the president does not meddle in prosecutions,'' he said at a news conference in Brussels earlier in the day, pointedly remarking that “perhaps it is a different tradition than exists in other countries”.

French officials, who claim that the fine could affect BNP’s capacity to issue loans and fear that the bank’s right to trade in dollars may be suspended, are warning there could be damage to the eurozone's economy.

And other European banks could face similar draconian penalties, they say.

“This case could be a trigger for countries whose big international banks are likely to be affected by American actions in their turn,” Sapin told Le Monde.

US financial police are also investigating France’s Crédit Agricole and Société Générale, Germany’s Deutsche Bank and Italy’s Unicredit.

BNP, which has refrained from comment, is discussing whether the resignation of highly placed employees, including chairman Baudouin Prot, might take off the heat, according to the Wall Street Journal.

But a source told the AFP news agency that Prot’s resignation was “not part of the negotiations”.

The BNP case and France's sale of Mistral warships to Russia have cast a pall over previously excellent relations between Hollande and Obama.

Read more: New best friends? Hollande White House visit seals change in France-US relations

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