* US-EU trade talks expected to begin by June
* Lawmakers press for action on EU farm trade barriers
* Congress to work on new "trade promotion authority" law
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON, Feb 12 President Barack Obama on
Tuesday called for talks on a far-reaching free trade agreement
with the 27 nations of the European Union, throwing his weight
behind a deal that would encompass half the world's economic
"Tonight I am announcing that we will launch talks on a
comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
with the European Union because trade that is free and fair
across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American
jobs," Obama said in his annual State of the Union speech.
The United States and the EU already have the largest
economic relationship in the world, and one of the most
complicated. A pact would unite the United States, the world's
largest economy, with four other countries in the top ten:
Germany, France, Britain and Italy.
Faced with slow growth on both sides of the Atlantic and
rising competition from China and other emerging economies, the
long-time allies in late 2011 began looking at ways to build on
their existing relationship.
Last week, EU leaders endorsed trade talks with the United
States, putting it at the top of a larger agenda that includes
negotiations with Canada and Japan.
Two-way goods trade between the United States and the EU now
totals more than $600 billion annually. Services trade,
including sales by majority-owned U.S. or EU companies in each
other's market, adds about $1.2 billion.
U.S. companies have invested around $1.9 trillion in
production, distribution and other operations in the EU, far
more than in China or anywhere else in the world. EU companies
have invested about $1.6 trillion in the United States.
Since most tariffs between the United States and the EU are
already low, reducing regulatory barriers to trade in areas like
agriculture and chemicals is expected to be the most challenging
aspect of the talks.
The EU recently lifted bans on imports of U.S. live swine
and beef washed with lactic acid to help build confidence that
it can address U.S. agricultural concerns.
Leaders of the Senate Finance Committee, in a letter to U.S.
Trade Representative Ron Kirk earlier on Tuesday, welcomed those
steps but said any agreement must also reduce EU restrictions on
genetically modified crops, poultry treated with chlorine
washes to kill pathogens and meat from animals fed the growth
"A strong, comprehensive trade and investment agreement with
the EU has the potential to create significant good-paying jobs
for Americans," but negotiations will be tough, Representative
Dave Camp, the Republican chairman of the House of
Representatives Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement
welcoming Obama's announcement.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an early proponent of trade
talks with the EU, applauded the news and urged swift
negotiation of a high-standard pact.
The U.S.-EU talks also are expected to tackle new areas,
such as setting rules to govern the free flow of information
across borders. That is an increasingly important priority for
big U.S. Internet companies like Google, Facebook
and Amazon but could be hard for EU members
France and Germany to accept because of privacy concerns.
Meanwhile, the two sides are locked in a long-running battle
at the World Trade Organization over government support for
Boeing, the largest the U.S. exporter, and its European
That dispute threatens to erupt into a transatlantic trade
war in coming years unless the two sides can work out a
Obama also reaffirmed his commitment to talks with ten
countries in the Asia-Pacific region on a free trade pact called
the Trans-Pacific Partnership that negotiators hope to finish
this year after more than three years of bargaining.
Talks on the U.S.-EU accord are expected to begin by June. A
successful conclusion to both negotiations would secure Obama's
reputation as a free trade president after what critics say was
a slow start in his first term.
Camp and the Senate Finance Committee leaders also said they
planned to push this year for renewal of "trade promotion
authority," a law that expired in 2007 that allowed the White
House to submit trade deals to Congress for a straight yes-or-no
vote without any amendments.
That legislation has long been considered essential in
persuading other countries to put their best offers on the table
in trade talks with the United States.