France denies quitting trade talks with Australia over AUKUS row

French and Australian officials said on Monday that France’s anger over a cancelled submarine contract will not derail negotiations of an Australia-EU trade deal.

France withdrew its ambassadors to the US and Australia after US President Joe Biden revealed last week a new strategic parntership with Australia and the UK that would deliver an Australian fleet of at least eight nuclear-powered submarines.

The deal sunk an over €56 billion contract for French majority state-owned Naval Group to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines for Australia.

Trade talks set to continue

French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault however denied media reports that France was lobbying the EU not to sign the trade deal with Australia that has been under negotiation since 2018.

“At this stage negotiations do continue and there is a strong interest…for Australia to have a free trade agreement with the EU,” Thebault told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Such a deal “has the potential to deliver a huge amount of benefits for Australia,” Thebault added.

Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan said he would travel to Paris within weeks for trade negotiations and was “very keen to touch base with my French counterpart,” Franck Riester.

“I see no reason why those discussions won’t continue,” Tehan added.

Macron to meet Biden soon

French President Emmanuel Macron will speak in the coming days with Biden in their first contact since the diplomatic crisis erupted.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison flew to the United States on Monday for a meeting with Biden and the leaders of India and Japan that make up the Quad security forum.

“This is all about, always about ensuring that Australia’s sovereign interests will be put first to ensure that Australians here can live peacefully with the many others in our region, because that’s what we desire as a peaceful and free nation,” Morrison said before departing Sydney.

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