* Summit statement signals political will to try for U.S.
* EU-U.S. deal would encompass one third of global trade
By Robin Emmott and Andreas Rinke
BRUSSELS, Feb 8 Europe's leaders will agree on
Friday to push for a free-trade pact with the United States,
according to a draft joint statement, putting the onus on the
White House to respond to a proposal that would encompass half
the world's economic output.
Major exporters Germany and Britain appear to have won
support from the rest of the European Union at a summit in
Brussels to reach a deal with Washington that many leaders hope
will help Europe pull out of its banking and debt crises.
According to the draft of the final summit statement
obtained by Reuters, the European Union will give "its support
for a comprehensive trade agreement" with the United States.
"All efforts should be devoted to pursuing agreements with
key partners," EU leaders will say, putting the United States at
the top of a long list including Japan and Canada.
The EU leaders' statement raises expectations that U.S.
President Barack Obama may endorse the initiative next Tuesday
in his annual State of the Union speech, which presidents
traditionally use to lay out their priorities for the year.
Obama and EU leaders tasked their trade chiefs in 2011 to
look at whether it was feasible to agree a deal to further
integrate the two blocs that already have low tariffs.
A U.S.-EU draft proposal drawn up by EU Trade Commissioner
Karel De Gucht and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk is
essentially ready. De Gucht, who went to Washington this week,
has given strong signals that there is enough common ground to
go ahead with negotiations.
Talks could start in months, and while such negotiations are
notoriously slow, both sides appear to want to agree on an
accord quickly, possibly by the end of 2014.
But U.S. officials, wary of getting bogged down in endless
talks, have said they need a strong political commitment from
the 27-nation European Union that Brussels is serious about
opening up its markets before they can go ahead with talks.
The EU's formal commitment will come later on Friday when
the summit, largely focused on efforts to agree the EU's
seven-year budget, wraps up with a final statement.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with support from
free-trade advocate Britain, has been eager for a deal for
"I wish for nothing more than a free-trade agreement with
the United States," Merkel said on Jan. 29 in Berlin.
Diplomats say the time is right for a deal that was first
talked about three decades ago but was considered too difficult
because of worries from protectionists on both sides of the
Atlantic, especially the farming sector.
In a speech on Saturday in Munich, U.S. Vice President Joe
Biden said the economic benefits of a comprehensive trade
agreement would be "almost boundless" if the two sides could
muster the political will to resolve longstanding differences in
regulations that have blocked farm and other exports.
Biden said: "This is within our reach."