EU, U.S. on verge of "difficult" free-trade negotiations
By Robin Emmott
SANTIAGO (Reuters) - The United States and the European Union are wrapping up final preparations for talks on a free-trade agreement that would encompass half the world's economic output, Europe's trade chief said on Saturday, while warning of "difficult negotiations."
EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht will travel to Washington on February 5 to put the finishing touches on a joint EU-U.S. report. He gave his clearest signal yet that Brussels and Washington are ready to embark on the accord.
"Essentially the report is ready. I will go to Washington to discuss a couple of small items and for a final reading. But essentially we're on the same page," De Gucht told Reuters in an interview in the Chilean capital Santiago.
"These will be difficult negotiations."
A trade deal between the world's two largest economies encompassing 800 million people would unleash billions of dollars in transatlantic business, advocates say.
It could also allow Europe and the United States to define the rules of global trade before China and India do.
The 27-nation European Union and the United States already account for nearly a third of world trade, but a banking and debt crisis in Europe and meager American growth are pushing both sides to consider removing the final barriers to trade.
U.S. companies have invested some $1.9 trillion in production, distribution and other operations in the EU, far more than in China. EU companies have invested about $1.6 trillion in the United States. Continued...