Since reporters always complain that they didn't have enough space to include one or another item in their articles, why do they so often feel the need to add the word "free" to a reference to trade. That is exactly what the NYT did in an article on Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta complaining about populism in Europe.
The reference to free-trade talks presumably meant the negotiations of a European Union-U.S. trade pact. Since formal trade barriers are already very low these negotiations are primarily over regulations. In many cases the goal is to limit the extent to which national and sub-national governments can impose safety and environmental regulations. In some cases, as with patents and enforcement of copyrights, the aim is to increase protectionist restrictions. For this reason it is highly inaccurate to describe the pact as a "free-trade" agreement.