EU, U.S. should secure trade deal this year, U.S. negotiator says

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[April 22, 2016]  BERLIN (Reuters) - Europe and the United States should wrap up a U.S.-European free trade deal this year or people will start thinking it might never happen, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told a German newspaper.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to discuss the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with U.S. President Barack Obama when he visits a trade show in Hanover on Sunday and Monday. The visit comes at a time when support for TTIP has plunged in Germany and the United States.

In an interview published on Friday, Froman told the newspaper Handelsblatt he wanted an agreement on TTIP this year but not at any cost. "We won't agree to a sort of 'TTIP Lite'," he said.

Asked whether it was realistic to conclude talks on TTIP in 2016, Froman said the EU and the U.S. had a "unique opportunity" if both sides had the political will for an agreement.

"If we don't get it done, then we create a great deal of uncertainty on whether we will ever get it done," he said.

On Wednesday, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said TTIP negotiations were "frozen up" and their success or failure depended on Washington.

Merkel defended TTIP on Friday, saying it was an opportunity for the "Mittelstand" - the small and medium-sized companies seen as the backbone of Germany's economy, many of which worry the deal would give too much power to multinationals. Merkel said it would give them advantages on the U.S. market.

Speaking at an event hosted by the German brewing association in Ingolstadt, Merkel said the beer industry was increasingly benefiting from exports given that beer consumption in Germany was stagnating.

"So I encourage the critics of the free trade agreement to have another think about it," she said.

German government said at a news conference on Friday Berlin aimed to conclude TTIP negotiations by the end of 2016 and Merkel would stress that to Obama in her discussions with him in Hanover.

The United States is Germany's biggest trading partner. Advocates of the trade deal say it would unleash further growth while critics warn it could undermine consumer rights and environmental protection.

(Reporting by Michelle Martin in Berlin and Joern Poltz in Ingolstadt; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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