EU resumes US trade talks after German protests
Tens of thousands rallied against a planned EU-US free-trade deal in the German city of Hannover this weekend, during a visit by US president Barack Obama.
Obama told a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel it was "indisputable" that free trade had made the US and other countries' economies stronger.
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He said he hoped that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and the EU would be completed this year, before he leaves office.
“If we don’t complete negotiations this year, then upcoming political transitions in the United States and Europe could mean this agreement won’t be finished for quite some time,” he warned.
Obama and Merkel are both hoping to seal a deal this year, but public support in Germany has plummeted to a new low – from around 55 percent two years ago to 17 percent as of last week, according to a YouGov survey.
Both leaders will discuss the state of the negotiations at a meeting on Monday evening with British prime minister David Cameron, French president Francois Hollande and Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi.
Also on Monday EU negotiators will kick off their 13th round of talks in New York in their increasingly strained efforts to finalise the world's largest trade deal.
EU commission sources acknowledge the growing public opposition to TTIP but remain determined to finalise a pact they say will benefit consumers on both sides of the Atlantic.
"In principle, all issues on are on the table. Everything is going to be discussed and negotiated in this round," said an EU commission official.
It means talks will focus on market access, tariffs, services, and procurement.
But the most difficult issues, like the EU commission's plan to set up a new arbitration system and some outstanding tariff lines, will remain untouched until the most advanced stages of talks.
"We have made clear that we are not going to negotiate anything that weakens or puts into question public services," said the official.
Both sides have formulated their positions on only 13 out of the 25 TTIP chapters in a deal that covers everything from chemicals, textiles, engineering, and cars to pharmaceuticals, among other sectors.
But public outrage against the trade deal remains heated despite claims that it will create millions of jobs and boost economies by $100 billion.
Civil society opposition movements spearheaded, in part, by Greenpeace say the deal is floundering.
“This trade deal is going nowhere. With opposition to TTIP growing on both sides of the Atlantic and talks faltering, president Obama and chancellor Merkel are growing increasingly desperate," said Greenpeace's Juergen Knirsch in a statement.
Knirsch maintains the deal will erode democracy, environmental and health standards, and social rights.
The EU commission says it is ready to start talks with the next US administration should they fail to seal a deal under Obama.
"We assume that it will be possible to work with whoever is the next president of the United States," said an EU commission source.