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EU finds 'huge scepticism' over US trade deal

[BRUSSELS] A survey has found "huge scepticism" among Europeans about a key element in a huge EU-US trade deal that lets corporations sue governments, trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said on Tuesday.

The result is the latest setback for the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact). The EU and United States began 19 months ago talks on what aims be the world's biggest free trade deal.

The online consultation received 150,000 responses, an EU record, though officials insisted that 97 per cent of these contained pre-defined, negative answers organised by activists.

"The consultation clearly shows that there is a huge scepticism against the ISDS instrument", Mr Malmstroem said in a statement.

ISDS, or the investor-state dispute settlement, is a key part of the trade deal which would allow firms to sue national governments if they feel that local laws such as health and safety regulations violate the trade deal and threaten their investments.

But campaigners in key EU countries are fiercely opposed to the clause.

In an effort to appease their concerns, the European Commission, the EU's executive branch, carried out the survey.

"We need to have an open and frank discussion about investment protection and ISDS in TTIP with EU governments, with the European Parliament and civil society before launching any policy recommendations in this area," Mr Malmostroem added.

The United States has made the inclusion of the investor clause a key part of its demands, and the whole deal could fail if the battle against it prevails.

The EU's 28 governments, which unanimously approved the terms of negotiations including ISDS, have set themselves the ambitious goal of concluding the talks by the end of 2015.

The next round of talks is in February.

But the fierce resistance against ISDS and other hot-button issues - including the protection of European products like Germany's bratwurst sausage from low-quality copycats - makes this seem unlikely.