Elon Musk’s push to include space technology in US trade talks with the European Union is running into French resistance.
The “non” by Paris is the latest obstacle to emerge before negotiations begin, adding to a list of industries that France considers off-limits, such as agriculture. On the US side, President Donald Trump is threatening tariffs on imported cars and auto parts if talks fail.
Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies asked the office of the US Trade Representative in December to use the planned talks to expand market access and ensure that European competitor ArianeGroup doesn’t get preferential treatment in Europe. That’s a non-starter, French space agency head Jean-Yves Le Gall said after French newspaper Les Echos reported on SpaceX’s request.
“We don’t believe the space industry should be part of trade talks,” Le Gall said in an interview on Friday. “We believe this is a sovereignty and security industry.”
Responding to the SpaceX letter’s call to address imbalances, Le Gall said US subsidies of the space industry are “far ahead” of Europe’s.
Linked by more than $1.1 trillion in annual trade, the two sides are seeking to lay down markers. US priorities include agriculture, subsidies and telecommunications. The EU laid out its goals in January.
Ariane, whose launchpad is located in French Guiana, is an icon of French technology and research. ArianeGroup’s biggest shareholders are Airbus and Safran.
SpaceX upended the space-launch business with reusable rocket technology that cuts costs. That puts competitive pressure on ArianeGroup, which slashed the price of its next-generation launcher, known as Ariane 6.
SpaceX, based at Hawthorne outside Los Angeles, set a company record last year with 21 launches for customers including commercial satellite operators and the US military. ArianeGroup completed 11 launches last year through its Arianespace subsidiary.
France’s public accounts auditor, which monitors the efficiency of government spending, criticised the Ariane program in January, suggesting it has little hope of keeping up with competitors such as SpaceX.