| BRUSSELS, June 20
BRUSSELS, June 20 The United States and the
European Union on Wednesday inched closer to starting
negotiations on a long-awaited free trade deal, with the release
of a report calling for wide-ranging market opening and mutual
acceptance of product standards.
An EU-U.S. working group said that a comprehensive free
trade deal could eliminate tariffs and other barriers to trade
in goods, services and investment, and enhance the compatibility
of regulations and standards.
It could also lower "non-tariff" barriers such as some
health and safety regulations, which hinder foreign businesses
without formally penalising them.
"Based on our work thus far, the co-chairs of the High Level
Working Group believe that a comprehensive transatlantic trade
and investment agreement, if achievable, is the option that has
the greatest potential for supporting jobs and promoting growth
and competitiveness across the Atlantic," the report said.
Though they do not have a formal free trade pact, tariffs on
manufactured goods traded between the two economic blocs are
generally low, and there are few sectors where dismantling
remaining tariffs would create political opposition to a deal.
One potential area of friction, however, is regulatory
barriers in industries including financial services and
Businesses would like an agreement in which a car tested for
safety in the United States would not have to be tested again in
Europe, or a drug deemed safe by Brussels would not have to be
approved by U.S. government experts.
Wednesday's report said the two sides would seek to create
"a more integrated transatlantic marketplace" by addressing
issues arising from things like technical regulations and
conformity assessment procedures, and by early consultation on
The report called on officials and businesses in both blocs
to present concrete proposals by the end of the year to ease the
regulatory differences that impede change.
"We are now entering the last leg of mapping out how we
should tackle any eventual negotiation to boost growth and jobs
through our trade partnership," EU Trade Commissioner Karel De
Gucht said in a statement.
A trade-driven boost to economic growth and confidence would
help both President Barack Obama, campaigning to be re-elected
in November, and EU leaders, who are struggling with a financial
crisis and near-zero growth.
Transatlantic leaders urged the working group to "complete
its work as quickly as possible...with the goal of reaching a
recommendation...later this year on a decision as to the
"A strong outcome can enhance not only transatlantic
economic ties, but also address shared market access challenges
in third countries and encourage a forward-looking multilateral
trade liberalization agenda," said Obama, European Commission
President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU Council President Herman
Van Rompuy in a joint statement.
"Particularly at this time, a bold initiative to expand
trade and investment could make a significant contribution to
our strategy to strengthen growth and create jobs," they said.
Still, U.S. and EU officials worry about launching
negotiations that could drag on for years without success, such
as the Doha round of world trade talks, which started in 2001
and never reached an agreement.