EU leaders want US trade deal signed end-2015

BRUSSELS - EU leaders agreed at a summit Thursday to push for the signing of a huge but controversial free trade deal with the United States by the end of 2015.

Talks on the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact), which would be the world's biggest trade deal, began 18 months ago and are still under way, with the next round due in February.

"The EU and the US should make all efforts to conclude negotiations on an ambitious, comprehensive and mutually beneficial TTIP by the end of 2015," the leaders said in a statement.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said after the summit that while they wanted to push through the deal by late 2015, it should be "without Europe abandoning certain principles that are at its heart, such as public services."

The deal has raised concerns in several countries that their industries or welfare systems could be affected, while campaigners say corporate interests benefit from the negotiations taking place in secret.

Campaigners say it will override local laws through the most controversial part of the pact.

This is the ISDS - the so-called investor-state dispute settlement - which would allow firms to sue national governments if they feel that local laws such as health and safety regulations violate the trade deal and threaten their investments.

British Prime Minister David Cameron however welcomed the statement.

"I've also been pushing hard and successfully for making sure that we have an ambitious trade agreement with America, making sure we complete the European single market. Both of those aims have been strongly endorsed here so it's been a good meeting."

The pact would create a single market of one billion consumers spanning half the globe, harmonising regulations and removing tariffs from Alaska to the Baltics.