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EU-US trade talks resume amid controversy

EU and US delegates are meeting in Brussels for a fourth round of trade talks aimed at creating the world's largest free-trade zone. But critics say it could hurt consumers, workers and the environment.

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EU-US trade talks face challenges

The European Union and the United States began a fourth round of negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) in Brussels on Monday.

The partnership would create the world's largest free-trade area, with the goal of creating jobs, encouraging investment, harmonizing technical standards and other norms as well as boosting growth.

The EU says the agreement would boost the bloc's GDP by between 0.5 to 1 percent annually. The EU and US already have the world's largest trade relationship, making up at least 40 percent of global economic output.

But the two sides are at odds over access to certain sectors and tariffs. According to an EU source, who spoke to German news agency DPA, the EU was disappointed with Washington after last month's talks on tariffs. At present, duties between the two sides are 4 percent on average.

"Our offer is significantly more ambitious than the American one," the EU source argued, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The ball is in the US's court to correct this imbalance."

The two sides also disagree on public procurement, with the US government's "buy American" rule a thorn in the EU's side. Another sticking point is whether to include financial services in the agreement and access to US oil and gas resources.

Resistance and skepticism

Consumer groups on both sides of the Atlantic are concerned about the impact an agreement might have on everything from hormone-treated meat to workers' rights and the environment.

In Germany, a group called "TTIP unfairhandelbar," which translates as "TTIP can't be fairly negotiated," is gathering signatures to highlight the

lack of transparency

and what it calls "a worsening of workers' rights, consumer protection and environmental standards."

In Bavaria, the state's finance minister, Markus Söder, has demanded a Europe-wide referendum on TTIP. Speaking to German daily Münchner Merkur, he also criticized the talks' lack of transparency and pointed to the skepticism among EU citizens.

"We must slow down now and make sure everybody is on board," he told the paper. Otherwise, he said, a free trade agreement could "jeopardize people accepting Europe altogether."

The TTIP negotiations started in July last year and are expected to conclude sometime in 2015.

ng/kms (dpa, AFP)

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