* EU leader in U.S. to discuss task force recommendations
* Biden says US wants to avoid long, drawn-out negotiations
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON, Feb 5 The United States needs a
strong political signal from European Union leaders to put
proposed talks on a transatlantic trade agreement into high
gear, a U.S. senior administration official said on Tuesday.
"What we're really focused on is making sure the Europeans
are fully committed to the talks and have the political will to
take on the difficult issues," the official said ahead of
meetings on Wednesday with EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht.
The world's largest trading partners have been discussing the
possibility of launching trade talks since at least November
2011, when President Barack Obama and his European counterparts
created a high-level task force to examine the idea.
De Gucht is in Washington for talks with U.S. Trade
Representative Ron Kirk and other U.S. officials on the task
force's recommendations, which were supposed to be given to U.S.
and EU leaders by the end of last year.
A interim report released in June made a preliminary
recommendation for talks on a "comprehensive" trade pact.
No date has been set for releasing the final
recommendations, although De Gucht said last week they were
Leaders from the 27 EU member states are expected to discuss
the proposed trade talks and the task force's recommendations at
a European Council meeting on Thursday.
"We hope they'll use that council meeting as an opportunity
to send a clear message about their political will to do what is
necessary to make this work," the senior U.S. said, speaking on
condition that he not be identified.
The United States has long been frustrated with EU
restrictions on U.S. farm products it says are not based on any
scientific evidence of health risk.
It has pressed the EU to address those concerns as a sign it
is serious about the trade talks. On Monday, the EU dropped its
ban on U.S. live pigs and on beef washed in lactic acid to clean
The EU may also consider easing restrictions on imports of
U.S. animal fat, known as tallow, used in biofuels.
Since tariffs between the United States and the EU are
already relatively low. The main benefits from the talks are
expected to come from harmonizing standards and reducing
regulatory barriers to trade.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, in speech on Saturday in
Munich, touted the potential job-creating benefits of a
transatlantic trade pact, but dragged out a car metaphor U.S.
officials have repeatedly used to express their wariness about
getting stuck in endless negotiations with the EU.
"If we go down that road, we should try to do it on one tank
of gas and avoid protracted rounds of negotiations," Biden said.
U.S. officials were stung by the Doha round of world trade
talks, which began in 2001 and have never come to a conclusion
because of sharp disagreements between the United States, the EU
and developing countries.
Still, talks between the United States and the EU could
easily take more than a year because of the complexity of the
(Editing by Philip Barbara)