The European Commission has temporarily halted talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) over concerns about the investment provisions of the future EU-US trade deal.

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht this week launched a three-month public consultation on the provisions following "unprecedented" public interest in the talks.

The move, he said, reflects his determination to secure "the right balance" between protecting European investment interests and upholding governments' rights to regulate in the public interest.

The EU-US negotiations for the TTIP began in July last year and are aimed at removing trade barriers in a wide range of economic sectors to make it easier to buy and sell goods and services between the EU and the US.

The European Union said in June that the TTIP could bring EUR119bn (US$152.1m) a year in gains for the EU and EUR95bn in gains for the US once the agreement is fully implemented.

Of his decision to launch a public consultation, De Gucht said: "Governments must always be free to regulate so they can protect people and the environment. But they must also find the right balance and treat investors fairly, so they can attract investment. 

"International investment agreements like TTIP should ensure they do both. But some existing arrangements have caused problems in practice, allowing companies to exploit loopholes where the legal text has been vague.

"I know some people in Europe have genuine concerns about this part of the EU-US deal. Now I want them to have their say."

The third and latest round of talks took place in Washington last month. The next round is scheduled for March, at which time De Gucht will publish a proposed EU text for the investment part of the talks. This will include sections on investment protection and investor-to-state dispute settlement, or ISDS. People across the EU will then have three months to comment.