France warns trade pact at risk over massive bank fine

France warns trade pact at risk over massive bank fine

US plan to penalize BNP Paribas for breaking Iran, Sudan and Cuba sanctions puts deal with EU in danger, FM Fabius says

The entrance of a BNP Paribas bank in France (photo credit: AFP/Loic Venance)
The entrance of a BNP Paribas bank in France (photo credit: AFP/Loic Venance)

PARIS — France warned on Friday that a record $10-billion fine that the US is reportedly preparing for BNP Paribas bank for violating sanctions could hurt negotiations on a mega transatlantic trade deal.

Speaking a day after French President Francois Hollande raised the issue over dinner with US leader Barack Obama, France’s foreign minister said the fine could have “negative consequences” on talks over the EU-US pact.

This wide-ranging program, currently being negotiated, would establish the world’s largest free-trade and investment zone.

“This treaty, which can be positive for developing trade, cannot exist except on the basis of reciprocity,” Laurent Fabius told French radio when asked about the fine.

“Evidently… this risks having negative consequences, that’s true,” he said, referring to negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

The treaty could eventually establish a free-trade and investment zone that would cover some 820 million people and more than $1 trillion in annual two-way trade.

France has been piling pressure on the United States to reduce the fine it is reportedly ready to impose on one of France’s biggest banks accused of breaking US sanctions against Iran, Sudan and Cuba between 2002 and 2009.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that the fine could exceed $10 billion dollars (7.32 billion euros), and the French say that such a figure would be disproportionate.

In addition to Hollande, who has previously brought up the issue with the White House, the chief of France’s central bank and senior French regulators have pleaded BNP’s case with state and federal prosecutors in New York.

French officials warn that imposing such a big fine on one of the biggest banks in Europe could destabilize the financial system, cut lending to businesses and impede economic recovery.

Prior to his dinner with the French president, Obama made it clear he would not interfere in the judicial process as that would violate the independence of the US judiciary.

“The rule of law is not determined by political expediency,” Obama said in Brussels on Thursday.

Many analysts say stiff penalties would neither bring down BNP Paribas, nor create risks for the wider financial system.

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