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EU leaders seek to overcome hostility to US trade deal

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (center) arrives at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels on Dec 18, 2014.

[BRUSSELS] EU leaders defended plans for the world's biggest trade deal with the United States, seeking on Thursday to counter hostility in Europe and clear the way for the accord to be agreed by the end of 2015.

The European Union and the United States have committed to an accord that would create a transatlantic market of 800 million people and encompass almost half the world economy.

But campaigns against the deal have gathered momentum in recent months across Europe. Activists including environmental and anti-globalisation campaigners are trying to stop negotiations they say will allow US multinationals to bully EU governments into lowering food, labour and environmental standards or influence how health services are run.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who discussed the trade deal with his peers from Spain, Italy, Denmark and several other EU leaders before the start of a summit in Brussels, said nothing of the sort was being considered in negotiations. "We need to bust some of the myths that are being put around," Cameron said, saying Britain's public health service would not be under threat from a deal. "There are not the risks that some people are putting forward." According to a draft of the summit's final statement seen by Reuters, EU leaders will say that both sides "should make all efforts to conclude negotiations on a mutually beneficial TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) by the end of 2015." Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also called for the deal to go through.

Merkel has warned in recent days that Europe risks losing out to Asia as the United States finalises an accord with Japan and Pacific nations.

At the centre of fears are that US multinationals would use a so-called investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism to challenge EU laws on the grounds that these were restricting free commerce.

Negotiations for the TTIP were launched in July 2013 and negotiators are seeking a deal that goes well beyond trade to remove barriers to businesses in a broadest deal of its kind.

But there has been little progress on even basic areas such agreeing to remove tariffs. Each side has accused the other of trying to protect special industry interests.