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EU-U.S. Free-trade Agreement Gains Momentum

European Union trade commissioner Karel De Gucht said Friday he hopes talks can be launched “as soon as possible.”

GENEVA — European Union trade commissioner Karel De Gucht said Friday he hopes talks can be launched “as soon as possible” toward an EU-U.S. free-trade agreement.

He said a comprehensive accord should include agreement to scrap most tariffs, liberalize services and include a mechanism to address regulatory differences “to help reduce unnecessary costs for companies.

“An effective agreement would get as close as possible to the removal of all duties on trans-Atlantic trade in industrial and agricultural goods,” De Gucht said in a speech in Dublin.

He outlined that almost 2 billion euros, or $2.5 billion at current exchange, of goods and services are traded every day between the EU and the U.S., and together they account for about half of the world’s gross domestic product and almost a third of global trade flows.

“There is now, for the first time in years, a serious drive toward an EU-U.S. free-trade agreement,” he said. “We have been doing the preparatory work. We know what is at stake and what we can do about it. Now it is time to act.”

De Gucht said EU officials have been working hard with their U.S. colleagues to come up with a draft report by the end of the year.

The group, chaired by De Gucht and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, and tasked to explore ways to advance EU-U.S. trade and investment, was established during the November 2011 U.S.-EU summit meeting.

“Although no political decision has yet been reached to launch negotiations, the process has clearly moved in that direction,” he said.

A USTR spokeswoman said, “The U.S.-EU High-Level Working Group continues to work to assess how best to increase U.S.-EU trade and investment to produce additional economic growth and jobs, and improve our international competitiveness. The working group’s final report is due in the next few months.”