U.S., EU mull free trade talks, sign secure trade pact

Tue Nov 29, 2011 7:19pm EST
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By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and European Union agreed Tuesday to reduce red tape related to cargo security and pledged to work toward tearing down tariffs and regulatory barriers between the world's largest trading partners.

"The leaders have asked to look at all aspects of our relationship and see what we can do to strengthen our economic ties and support good jobs and growth on both sides of the Atlantic," White House international economics adviser Michael Froman told reporters at the end of the annual U.S.-EU Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC).

Those options range from simply expanding the TEC into new areas to negotiating a full-fledged free trade agreement, Froman said at the joint news conference with European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht.

"Everything is on the table, from tariffs to non-tariff barriers to enhanced regulatory cooperation," Froman said.

De Gucht will co-chair the high-level working group announced Monday to examine where the two sides can tear down barriers to promote more trade.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk will lead the effort for the United States.

The initiative comes as economic growth remains weak on both sides of the Atlantic and the prolonged European debt crisis is raising fears of another recession.

The United States and the 27 nations of the EU already have highly integrated economies, with two-way trade topping $500 billion a year. But a number of business groups have urged the transatlantic partners to build on those close ties.   Continued...