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U.S., EU Begin Free Trade Talks

The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has some hurdles but could be a on a fast track.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. and European Union launched free-trade agreement talks here on Monday as the world’s two biggest trading blocs hunkered down to try to overcome long-standing differences to create billions of dollars in new two-way trade.

The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has major implications for imports and exports of fashion goods. In addition, one new trade dispute involving U.S. jeans makers selling to the European market could create some initial friction as the two sides meet this week. In fact, there had been talk of a postponement following the NSA leaks in the U.S.

“In TTIP, we have the opportunity to accomplish something very significant for our economies, for our relationship and for the global trading system as a whole,” said U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman. “We have an opportunity to spur growth and to generate significant increases in the already substantial number of jobs supported by trans-Atlantic trade and investment.”

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President Obama has said the U.S.-EU relationship is already the largest in the world, amounting to about $1 trillion in annual trade in goods and services, and British Prime Minister David Cameron has said the free-trade deal could add as much as $157 billion to the EU economy, about $126 billion to the U.S. economy and as much as $133 billion to the rest of the world.

But the two sides will confront several thorny issues, including agricultural subsidies on both sides.

“We go into this exercise with eyes wide open,” Froman said. “We know there will be challenges. But we also know that there is strong political will at the highest levels on both sides of the Atlantic determined to stay focused and get this done on one tank of gas. I have every confidence that we can achieve this goal.”

Many apparel brands are also hopeful a trade dispute between the U.S. and EU will be resolved. At the end of April, the EU more than tripled the tariff on U.S.-made women’s and girls’ cotton denim jeans to 38 percent, in retaliation for not resolving a World Trade Organization case the EU won against the U.S. in 2005.