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[BRUSSELS] The United States and the European Union on Monday resumed talks to clinch a trade deal this year, despite rising opposition and Britain's shock vote to exit the bloc.
Negotiators met in Brussels for the 14th round of negotiations on the proposed trade pact that would create the world's largest free trade area.
But it is facing increasing headwinds from major EU powers Germany and France, where negative attitudes to globalisation and free trade are on the rise.
Officials are publically pushing to finalise negotiations on Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) before the end of the Obama administration at the end of the year.
But behind the scenes top diplomats are increasingly wary this will be achieved, believing that a suspension of talks until after major elections in France and Germany in 2017 will be required.
"I think a deal in 2016 is impossible and everyone knows it, including those who say otherwise," France's junior minister for trade Matthias Fekl said last week, although he does not participate actively in the talks.
France is especially frustrated at the lack of progress on key issues, such as agriculture and access to public contracts in the United States by European companies.
Environmentalists and anti-globalisation activists have opposed TTIP since negotiations began in 2013, believing it will provide unfair benefits to big business and allow multinationals to escape regulation through the backdoor.
In Brussels, between 50 and 100 activists dressed in animal suits attempted to enter the EU building hosting the talks, but were turned away by security, Belga news agency reported.
The costumed activists also stormed the headquarters of the EU's trade division, Belga said.
The EU's top trade official Cecelia Malmstroem said last week that her teams were still pushing for a deal by the end of the year.
On a visit to Washington, Ms Malmstroem also insisted that TTIP talks would survive the Brexit vote, despite Britain being the EU's strongest backer of freer trade.
"The rationale of TTIP remains as strong today as it was" before the vote, Ms Malmstroem said.