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Everything will be on the table when US and EU negotiators restart talks on an ambitious transatlantic free trade deal with a new wind in their sails, Washington's top trade negotiator said Wednesday.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would create the world's largest free trade area, liberalize investment and harmonize regulation, boosting economic growth and jobs, leaders from the two sides said.
US President Barack Obama made a renewed commitment to the talks one of the centerpieces of his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday, and diplomats said the first stage of a deal could be completed by late next year.
On Wednesday, Obama, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso declared their commitment to make the project "as an even stronger driver of our prosperity."
"The transatlantic economic relationship is already the world's largest, accounting for half of global economic output and nearly one trillion dollars in goods and services trade," they said in a joint statement.
"We are committed to making this relationship."
Barroso said in Brussels that an accord between the world's two largest trading entities would add 0.5 percent to the EU economy every year.
"It's a boost to our economies that does not cost a cent," he said, adding that after previous stumbling blocks, both sides were now ready for a deal.
The groundwork for a deal was done by a bilateral, high-level working group that laid out the justification and mapped out the framework for a deal in a report.
The proposed pact would:
- eliminate tariffs on goods trade.
- eliminate or reduce barriers to trade in goods, services and investment.
- harmonize regulations and standards that can hinder transatlantic trade and investment.
- remove or reduce things like a government's support for its state enterprises and preferences for locally produced goods and services.
- tie health issues linked to trade -- like biotechnology, sanitation and genetically modified organisms -- to accepted, science-based standards.
The proposed pact would also adapt to address new challenges to trade and investment flows that arise as the global economy and technology advance, the working group said.
Such a deal would "further strengthen the extraordinarily close strategic partnership between the United States and Europe," it said.
US Trade Representative Ron Kirk told reporters in Washington that even politically sensitive issues like agricultural and food products or data flows, would be covered in the talks.
"For us, everything is on the table, across all sectors, including across the agricultural sector, whether it is GMOs or other issues," Kirk said.
"We should be ambitious and we should deal with all of these issues."
A broader, explicit aim of the pact is that the two sides hope to lay down an outline for fresh impetus to multilateral trade talks, which, like the Doha round of World Trade Organization negotiations, have stalled.
"If we do not want trade liberalization to be stalled, we have to go through this bilateral process... as our partners are doing," Barroso said.
Kirk said there was an 18-month timeframe for an initial deal, before a new European Commission is seated late in 2014.
"The 18-month deadline, while ambitious, is certainly feasible," said former US trade negotiator Jeffrey Schott of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.
He said the Trans-Pacific Partnership the US is negotiating with Pacific Rim countries and the separate US and EU trade pacts with South Korea, can serve as models that would help advance the negotiations quickly.
The biggest challenge would be finding the political will to surmount challenges like the European public's rejection of genetically modified foods and seed that the United States wants to export, Schott said.
"I think there's room for compromise and constructive agreement," he added.