USTR expected to notify Congress soon of services trade talks

WASHINGTON Mon Jan 14, 2013 4:35pm EST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trade Representative's office is expected to notify Congress soon of its plan to enter into talks with the European Union and more than a dozen other countries on a pact to tear down barriers to trade in finance and other service industry sectors, industry officials said on Monday.

"We're hearing it could be in the next couple of days," one industry official said, speaking on condition he not be identified. "We're very excited about it."

A second industry official, who also asked not to be identified, said he had heard the notification could go to Congress as soon as Tuesday.

The pact would aim to eliminate barriers to trade and investment in sectors such as finance, insurance, telecommunication, computer services and express delivery, all areas in which the United States is a leading provider.

The United States, the 27-nation EU and 18 other developed and developing countries have been exploring the idea of launching talks on an International Services Agreement for nearly a year.

The group held its latest round of discussions in Geneva in December with the intention of formally starting talks early this year. Big emerging countries like China, India, Brazil and Russia have so far shunned the talks.

The Peterson Institute for International Economics conservatively estimated in April that the proposed agreement could increase annual services exports among 16 core members by $78 billion. Since that study, four more countries have expressed interest in joining the talks.

"In absolute terms, the United States and the European Union would see the largest export gains, around $14 billion and $21 billion, respectively," the Peterson report said.

If Brazil, China and India were to join the talks, the trade gains would expand by around 30 percent, the report said.

The U.S. practice is for the White House to notify Congress 90 days before entering into trade negotiations to give lawmakers an opportunity to raise any concerns.

The Geneva-based negotiations could include Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the EU, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey and the United States.

(Reporting By Doug Palmer; Editing by David Gregorio)

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