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German activists turn out in force to protest TTIP trade deal

Thousands of Germans have taken to the streets to protest a trans-Atlantic trade deal seen by many as a threat to European consumer standards. The rallies come ahead of a new round of talks on the deal.

More than 200 demonstrations took place across Germany on Saturday as demonstrators marched to protest at the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a free trade agreement currently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States.

Thousands of people attended rallies in cities and towns including the capital, Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Stuttgart.

In all, some 600 anti-TTIP protests were planned across the world for Saturday.

German consumer concerns

Opposition to the TTIP is fierce in Germany, with a recent poll from YouGov showing that 43 percent of people thought the pact would be bad for the country, against 30 percent who see it as good.

In another sign of the degree of resistance to the agreement in Germany, one million of the 1.7 million signatures collected in Europe by the European collective "Stop TTIP" came from Germany - ten times the number in France and 50 times that in Italy.

Critics of the free trade agreement, which is supported by the German government, say it could lead to a lowering of health and safety standards, particularly with regard to the EU's strict regulations on food additives, genetically modified crops and the use of pesticides.

Another major concern for opponents of the agreement is a clause allowing corporations to sue governments for policies they consider detrimental to their business interests in tribunals that do not answer to national law. Critics say this would allow big businesses to override measures decided upon by democratically elected administrations.

"There is a very big risk: TTIP will restrict our democratic rights. In future, large corporations will have an even greater influence on the legislative process," said Thilo Bode of Foodwatch, an NGO that monitors practices in the food industry.

US versus China

Those in favor of the agreement say companies on both sides of the Atlantic will profit from a reduction in regulatory hurdles and be able to access each other's markets more easily.

The protests come ahead of the ninth round of negotiations between US and European representatives, which is scheduled to begin in New York on Monday and run until Friday.

The US is also negotiating a similar free trade agreement - called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) - with Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The TTP is aimed partly at countering China's economic influence in Asia.

"The fastest growing markets, populace markets, are going to be in Asia," US President Barack Obama said on Friday at a press conference alongside Italian Prime Matteo Renzi at the White House, where he also called for "major progress" on the TTIP deal.

"If we do not help to shape the rules so that our businesses and our workers can compete in those markets, then China will set up rules that advantage Chinese workers and Chinese businesses," he said.

tj/kms (dpa,AFP)

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