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Trade deal potential 'immense'

Excluding health from talks over a huge trade deal between the European Union and the United States would be "highly unwise and detrimental" to British firms, a Government minister said.

Trade unions and other campaigners have called for a halt to negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), warning it will open up the NHS and other services to American firms.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has written to all UK MEPs urging them to oppose the deal unless health was exempted and criticised an orchestrated campaign of "disinformation" over its impact.

The Government says TTIP would create jobs, increase wages and boost the UK economy by £10 billion a year and denies that it could face legal action by US firms if it refused to open up health services.

And Health Minster Earl Howe warned opponents risked damaging UK industry.

"We have some world-leading pharmaceutical and medical technology companies in this country who currently are subject to tariffs and barriers in trying to enter the US market.

"The potential for them is immense so it would be highly unwise and detrimental in our view to exclude health."

He said there had been "a lot of unnecessary worry and, if I may say so, scaremongering about this agreement.

"We are not in for a wholesale privatisation of the health service as people fear."

EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht, who has been leading the European negotiating team, also dismissed the feared risk to the health service.

He said: "Public services are always exempted - there is no problem about exemption. The argument is abused in your country for political reasons but it has no grounds."

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