President Barack Obama vowed to begin talks on a trade agreement with the European Union, expanding the world’s largest economic relationship, while at the same time finishing discussions for a Pacific-region accord.
“Trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying jobs,” Obama said in prepared remarks for his State of the Union speech tonight. It was his strongest commitment to trade negotiations with the EU.
Talks with the 27-nation EU will help Obama meet his goal of doubling exports by the end of 2014 as global negotiations stall and China increases its role in global economy. Obama’s administration also plans to complete negotiations on the Trans- Pacific Partnership with 10 nations in the region.
The administration set an ambitious goal for the talks. Recent U.S. trade agreements took years of negotiations. While trade and investment between the U.S. and the EU was valued at $4.5 trillion in 2011, the partners have been at odds over issues including farm subsidies, health protections and regulatory standards.
Obama’s trade representative, Ron Kirk, said he plans to leave office by the end of this month and a replacement hasn’t been named.
Congressional support for an EU deal depends on issues including better market access for U.S. agricultural goods, strong intellectual property protections and a means to settle disputes, leaders of the Senate Finance Committee said today in a letter to Kirk.
A free-trade agreement between the U.S. and EU is an “enticing opportunity,” the senators, Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, and Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, wrote.
U.S. and EU negotiators, led by Kirk and European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, since late 2011 have been working on a report to outline the scope of a potential accord. The group released an interim report in June, setting among the goals the removal of all duties on bilateral trade. A final report hasn’t been issued.
The EU, reeling from a sovereign debt crisis, and Washington-based industry groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable have urged the Obama administration to pursue a trans-Atlantic accord.
While Vice President Joe Biden said in Munich on Feb. 2 that such as deal is “within our reach,” he cautioned: “The question now is whether the political will exists to resolve those long-standing differences.”
The EU on Feb. 4 changed rules for the trade of live pigs and lactic acid used to clean bovine carcasses in an effort to win U.S. support for a deal. The changes take effect Feb. 25.
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