France to defend interests in EU-U.S. trade talks

France's trade minister said on Wednesday she would support an EU-US free trade pact as sought by U.S. President Barack Obama if it benefited the French economy and notably its farm sector.

Nicole Bricq said France, which shot down an earlier attempt in 1998 at a transatlantic pact on concerns over farm trade, would consult with its industry and other players until March 1 before deciding whether to give the green light on negotiations.

"I will stand up for an accord that respects our values, Europe's cultural vision, our agricultural model and which will facilitate progress in ecological and energy matters," Trade Minister Nicole Bricq said in a statement.

"I will ensure that French interests are heard."

A spokeswoman said potential French concerns included U.S. farm products such as genetically modified (GMO) crops and so-called "protected geographical indications" covering products linked to a specific region such as champagne.

It is up to the 27 member states of the EU to give the European Commission, the executive arm of the bloc, a mandate to negotiate with the United States.

"This agreement should be ambitious. Gradual elimination of customs tariffs, access to public markets, mutual recognition of health and phytosanitary standards - if launched, the talks should cover all subjects," she said.

(Reporting by Mark John)