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New round of US-EU free trade talks begins

Negotiators from the EU and the US have kick-started the ninth round of talks over the TTIP free trade agreement, a move aimed at speeding up the process to conclude the deal.

The latest round of TTIP negotiations kicked off on Monday in New York. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) foresees the creation of the world's largest free trade zone by pulling the 28-nation EU and the US more closely together.

Apart from eliminating regulatory barriers, the deal would also cover a wide array of areas such as food safety standards, data protection and other non-tariff barriers.

Just hours before the talks started on Monday, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said negotiators have a "new momentum" as they begin the new round.

"We want to simplify, remove unnecessary red tape - as double inspections, for instance - but we need time to do it, because we don't want to cut any corners and we are both very committed not to lower any of our standards of protection or to change EU law," she said.

Malstrom noted that issues on the negotiators' agenda this week included regulatory cooperation, and rules on competition, state-owned enterprises, energy, raw materials and sustainable development, among others.

While the industry has by and large spoken out in favor of the proposed deal, the TTIP has also long drawn significant criticism from both sides of the Atlantic.

Consumer groups lament that the free-trade deal would lead to a dilution of regulatory standards and oversight. Germany is home to some of the staunchest opponents of the pact, with studies pointing out that the majority of Germans are against TTIP.

On April 18, thousands of protestors took to the streets in Europe to oppose the proposed agreement. The most controversial aspect of the pact includes clauses related to investor protection.

Critics argue that the provisions allow companies to sue governments in international arbitration tribunals, potentially undermining national law.

sri/uhe (dpa, AFP)

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