French trade minister declines to meet with Australian counterpart

PARIS – French Trade Minister Franck Riester has declined an offer to meet his Australian counterpart next month in Paris, suggesting tensions will not quickly subside after Canberra’s recent decision to scrap a US$40 billion (S$54.16 billion) submarine deal with France.

Mr Dan Tehan had told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio on Monday he would be “very keen” to meet Mr Riester when he is in Paris in October for an Organisation for Economic and Development meeting.

But an official from Mr Riester’s office said on Friday that the minister had rejected the offer.

“We won’t follow up the Australian minister’s request for a meeting. We can’t go on as if it was business as usual,” the French official said.

Australia last week cancelled its order of a fleet of conventional submarines from France and said it would instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with US and British technology under the new Aukus security partnership.

Paris recalled its ambassadors in Australia and the United States following the announcement.

While France has since said it would send its US ambassador back after the French and US presidents moved to mend ties in a phone call, it remains with Canberra.

Australian Scott Morrison said on Wednesday he had unsuccessfully tried to arrange a conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron.

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