DAVOS, Switzerland — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron pushed hard for the launch of negotiations on a European Union-U.S. free-trade agreement on Thursday at the World Economic Forum here.

This story first appeared in the January 25, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“We urgently need to come to such agreements,” said Merkel, indicating that with the World Trade Organization-sponsored Doha Round of trade talks in limbo, “We have to pin our hopes on bilateral trade agreements, and Germany, I can assure you, will be very proactive in the conclusion of FTA agreements.”

The EU is in the final stages of talks to conclude an FTA with Canada and is about to launch negotiations with Japan.

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With regard to an EU-U.S. accord, Merkel said in a keynote address to business and world leaders, “We would like to do this with the U.S., as well. I think we need to do this, we can do this and we all will benefit.”

Merkel said, “One of the big engines of growth of the world economy, and for us in Europe, is free trade,” but she also cautioned “there are a lot of protectionist tendencies and we need to do everything we can in order to contain them.”

Cameron also forcefully argued for a transatlantic trade pact.

“Now there is the beginning of negotiations on an EU-U.S. trade agreement,” he said. “A deal…could add over 50 billion pounds to the EU economy alone.”

Cameron pointed out that during his country’s presidency of the G-8 this year “we’re going to push for more openness on trade.”

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

A USTR spokeswoman told WWD, “We know there is a lot of interest in whether we will decide with our colleagues to launch trade negotiations. Our work in that regard is ongoing. We want to take the time to get the substance right.”

A spokesman for the EU trade commissioner said work was “ongoing at this stage.”

Luisa Santos, head of international trade at the European Apparel and Textile Confederation, or Euratex, said, “We are strongly in favor of this agreement. In our sector, duties are still high in the U.S. and being this a price-sensitive market, the elimination of the duties would certainly improve the competitive advantages of EU companies. Moreover, we are also facing some nontariff barriers due to different standards and regulations in the U.S. market, and an agreement that addresses this issue would have a positive impact reducing costs for EU companies.”

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