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EU, U.S. To Launch Talks On 'Ground-Breaking' Free-Trade Deal

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso holds a press conference on a major trans-Atlantic trade initiative at EU headquarters in Brussels on February 13.
BRUSSELS -- The European Union and the United States say they will launch negotiations on a landmark trans-Atlantic free-trade deal.

The announcement was made on February 13 in Brussels by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on behalf of the United States and the 27-member bloc.

Barroso spoke to the media after the release of a joint report recommending the start of talks.

"I am delighted to announce today that the European Union and the United States have decided to initiate internal procedures to launch negotiations with the aim of reaching a ground-breaking free-trade agreement," he said.

The report estimates the EU's economy will annually gain some 0.5 percent and the U.S. economy around 0.4 percent.

That would translate to 86 billion euros ($115.80 billion) of added annual income for the EU and 65 billion euros ($86 billion) for the United States.

In his State of the Union address, U.S. President Barack Obama said on February 12 that a trans-Atlantic agreement would support "millions of good-paying American jobs."

The trade relationship between the two sides is already the world's largest, accounting for more than $600 billion annually.

The talks are expected to start during Ireland's six-month presidency of the European Union, which ends on July 1.

Setting The Standard

Barroso said the success of the negotiations would mark a new era in international trade development.

"A future deal between the world's two most important economic powers will be a game-changer. Together we will form the largest free-trade zone in the world," Barroso said.

"So these negotiations will set a standard not only for our future bilateral trade and investment, including regulatory issues, but also for development of global trade rules."

EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht said that "ideally, we want to finish this dossier within two years." Similar deals have involved years of negotiations.

De Gucht added that negotiations would center on removing remaining tariffs and other barriers to trade and standardize technical regulations and certifications.

However, there are many obstacles to overcome, including Europe's reluctance to accept genetically modified agricultural products from the United States.
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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.