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  1. ITV Report

What is the controversial US-EU trade deal?

There have been several rounds of free trade negotiations between the United States and the European Union amid wide public criticism. Photo: Wiktor Dabkowski/DPA/Press Association Images

To its supporters, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) being negotiated by the United States and the European Union offers the chance to remove barriers to free up vital trade lines that will boost economies and provide many new jobs.

To its opponents, TTIP will take more shackles off big business whose unchecked actions will harm society, workers and public services and leave European governments with their hands tied.

Protests have taken place across Europe at trade reforms that opponents believe will empower big business to the harm of the rest of society. Credit: Daniel Karmann/DPA/Press Association Images

The proposed deal has proved so divisive that the European Commission, which is leading the EU's talks with the US, launched a public consultation amid accusations from its critics that the process was secretive and undemocratic.

Since February last year, the two sides have been carrying out several rounds of private talks to forge a bi-lateral trade agreement.

The European Commission said its negotiators are accountable to the EU Member States in the Council and the European Parliament who will ultimately vote on TTIP. It said the negotiations' aim was:

... removing trade barriers (tariffs, unnecessary regulations, restrictions on investment etc.) in a wide range of economic sectors so as to make it easier to buy and sell goods and services between the EU and the US. The EU and US also want to make it easier for their companies to invest in each other's economy.

– European Commission

The Commission said the decision to start negotiations was mainly due to the "continuing economic crisis and the stalling of the multilateral trade negotiations in the World Trade Organisation" along with changes in the EU's agriculture policy.

But those opposed to TTIP are urging MEPs to vote against the deal when it reaches the European Parliament.

One of the more contentious parts of the negotiations concerns the Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), which would allow companies to sue governments if state-enforced policies prevent their ability to turn a profit.

In Britain, the protests' chief focus is on the impact TTIP would have on the NHS, with claims it would enforce privatisation by the back door.

Ordinary people have had enough of corporations bulldozing through our public services. This deal is a threat to the NHS. It would give multi-national corporations the rights to carve up our health service, and sue the Government for loss of profits if they didn't make enough money.

– David Babbs, executive director of protest group 38 Degrees

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has insisted there is no threat to the NHS from the agreement, which the Prime Minister believes could be worth £10bn to the UK economy.

If it succeeds in the face of strong public opposition, TTIP will be the largest bilateral trade deal ever agreed.