DUESSELDORF, Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel tried on Friday to allay German fears about a proposed U.S.-EU trade pact, telling a group of business leaders that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could stimulate growth and create jobs.
Speaking at the American Chamber of Commerce, Merkel said there were unjustified fears in Germany about the pact that some say could boost the economies of the European Union and United States by $100 billion a year each.
"It is one of the most cost-effective growth stimulators that anyone can imagine," Merkel said of the TTIP. She called it a great project, well worth fighting for, and said she hoped it could be completed by 2015.
Germany's experience has been that free trade agreements have always led to more growth and job creation, said the chancellor.
There have been increasingly vocal protests against TTIP in Germany in recent weeks, and Merkel was confronted by a group of
demonstrators at a European election rally in Hamburg on Monday.
Germany's opposition parties, the Greens and Left, have spoken out forcefully against the pact. But Merkel said concerns about a lowering of environmental, food and consumer protection standards, which have dogged the talks, were unwarranted.
The German public's concerns have been exacerbated by leaks from former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden about the extent of global surveillance by the National Security Agency, including the alleged monitoring of Merkel's cellphone.
"The lack of transparency surrounding the NSA is not helpful for the discussion about an economic agreement," she said. Berlin has pushed the United States in vain for a "no-spy" agreement.
Trade experts predict the United States will have to make concessions on data privacy in TTIP talks with the EU.
Merkel said the trade agreement would strengthen transatlantic relations, and argued for closer energy policy cooperation with the United States in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.
(Writing by Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)