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NSA spying scandal clouds second round of EU-US free trade talks

The EU and the United States have resumed talks on the world’s largest free trade accord. But the current second round of negotiations is overshadowed by the US spying scandal which has resulted in a breakdown of trust.

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EU-US trade talks resume under cloud

Originally, the second round of talks on the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the European Union and the United States was scheduled to be held in October. However, the US government shutdown postponed negotiations.

Moreover, allegations that the US intelligence agency NSA spied on EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, sparked bitter recriminations and calls in Europe to halt TTIP talks.

Issues of trust had been raised, an EU official close to negotiations told the German DPA news agency on Friday, adding that the matter would not be a subject on the agenda of the talks.

Nevertheless, the EU's personal data protection standards would not be compromised in the discussions as the transfer of data in general was a key component of a modern economy, the official said.

The current round of talks, which began Monday, covers services, investment, energy, raw materials and focuses on regulatory issues. Negotiations were still in an exploratory phase, the EU official said, adding that it would take a further round to identify more clearly where the talks might need a political impulse.

Tariffs between the EU and the United States are already rather low, meaning that the free trade talks need to focus on reducing regulations and bureaucratic hurdles. Controversial sectors are said to be agriculture, including food safety, as well as the auto industry. Harmonizing regulatory standards in the car industry, for example, might cut costs by 20 percent, the EU estimated.

On balance, a transatlantic free trade deal would bring annual benefits of 119 billion euros ($159 billion) for the EU and only slightly less for the US, the bloc calculated.

A third round of talks is scheduled for December 16 in Washington as both sides aim for a final accord by late 2014.

uhe/dr (dpa, AFP)

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