The European Commission has decided to suspend talks on EU-US free trade deal amid concern that hard-won social protections in Europe might be undermined.
The trade negotiations began in 2013 but now the Commission has launched a three-month public consultation on the proposed investment rules for firms.
The aim is to close legal loopholes.
Consumer and environmental lobbyists say there is a risk of the EU accepting lower US standards in many areas.
The proposed EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could bring huge benefits for Europe and America, the Commission says.
A 2013 EU study estimated it could boost the size of the EU economy by 120 billion euros ($162 billion) – equal to 0.5% of GDP – and the US economy by 95 billion euros (or 0.4% of GDP).
But several European NGOs) and MEPs have questioned the investment rules, fearing that they could tie governments’ hands in the face of powerful US corporations.
Last week 10 European NGOs issued a joint statement raising doubts about the TTIP’s mechanism for legal disputes, called the “Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS)”.
The statement said there was a risk the mechanism could “open the gates for multinationals and investors to sue EU member states if new environmental or health legislation is introduced that adversely affects their business prospects”.
It warned of a “chilling” effect – the fear that legislating in certain areas of public health or the environment could trigger expensive lawsuits with US companies.
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