Protesters across Germany rally against trade deals

Demonstrators took to the streets of seven German cities on Saturday in a bid to head off Europe's plans to sign new far-reaching trade deals with both the United States and Canada.

Organizers of the "Stop TTIP & CETA - for a fair world trade" protests held marches in Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Leipzig and Munich.

But far fewer people turned out than the 250,000 that planners had hoped for, with many people perhaps kept indoors by rainy weather across much of the country.

About 80,000 people had been expected in Berlin but police put the number at 30,000. Ten thousand people were counted before the march in Cologne and 5,000 at the start of Frankfurt's rally.

"Obama: Stop TTIP - Yes you can" read one protester's sign in Frankfurt, while the words on another placard called for the "Common good over corporate interests."

The rallies coincide with signs of a shift in the political mood against the trade deals ahead of next year's national election in Germany.

About 28 per cent of Germans had doubts about what advantages would result from the two trade deals, according to a survey published Friday by the Ipsos Institute. The survey also showed 52 per cent believe the agreements would weaken standards and result in the import of defective products.

The survey's results echo the views of critics who have lashed out at the trade deals saying they would lower environmental standards as well as weaken Europe's social state.

Ulrich Grillo from the influential Federation of German Industries pushed back Saturday at detractors.

"If TTIP and CETA fail, it would be a serious setback for Europe," he said. "It would be not be the victory of an enlightened protest movement. It would prove we Europeans are not willing to jointly develop rules that make world trade fairer and better."

The European Union and Canada plan to formally sign off on their Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) at a summit next month.

Officials in the EU and Washington at least publicly say they want to complete the negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) before US President Barack Obama leaves office in January next year.

Once finalized, TTIP will create the world's largest free trade area, with about 800 million consumers.

Those in favour of the EU-US trade deal say that by abolishing import duties and aligning standards, TTIP could stimulate the economy and create new jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. In Germany - the EU's largest economy - one in four jobs is directly or indirectly linked to trade.

This week, the ministers of 12 EU member states - including Italy, Britain and the bloc's Nordic and Baltic countries - expressed their firm support for the bloc's trade negotiations with Canada and the United States.

"We ... strongly believe that more trade is necessary if we are to continue creating new jobs in the EU," they wrote in a letter to EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom.

The letter was signed by ministers from Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

Last update: Sat, 17/09/2016 - 13:40

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