French President François Hollande and President Obama said the proposed U.S.-European Union trade accord is important to both countries and they are committed to its successful negotiation despite political hurdles.

This story first appeared in the February 12, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

At a joint press conference Tuesday, the two leaders also unveiled a new bilateral Economic-Commercial Dialogue.

“We need to get this done because an agreement could increase exports by tens of billions of dollars, support hundreds of thousands of additional jobs both in the U.S. and the European Union, and promote growth on both sides of the Atlantic,” said Obama, referring to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership launched in July.

Obama said small- and medium-sized companies stand to benefit most from export opportunities the accord can bring about, adding that “it can mean jobs and growth in France and the United States.”

Most experts feel, however, that Obama needs to be granted presidential trade promotion authority to achieve this accord and the more controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement between the U.S. and 11 other countries, which is said to be in its final stages of negotiations. TPA allows Congress to only vote up or down on trade pacts, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) recently said he was against granting it to Obama and that it was “not the right time” to bring it up.

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Responding to a question, Hollande said, “I am aware of the debate in Congress. Speed is not of the essence. It would be a good thing, but what is important is that…we negotiate in good faith and move forward as quickly as possible.”

The French president said a U.S.-EU accord would open up markets, remove nontariff barriers, and “we really want to reach this agreement because it will contribute to growth.”

Both presidents noted the importance of greater economic cooperation between the countries as the U.S. Department of Commerce and French Ministry of Economy and Finance have agreed to establish a U.S.-France Economic-Commercial Dialogue to enhance bilateral cooperation and to expand trade and investment. The dialogue aims to identify ways to boost jobs and growth in both countries and to improve competitiveness through innovation and entrepreneurship.

Obama and Hollande said both countries already have strong foreign investments in each other’s economies, and the new agreement is intended to strengthen that. According to a White House fact sheet, France’s foreign direct investment in the U.S. stood at $222 billion at the end of 2012. France is one of the top five sources of jobs created by FDI in the U.S., with American affiliates of French firms employing about 525,000 Americans in 2011 at an average wage of nearly $80,000.

At the same time, the U.S. was the leading job-creating investor in France in 2012, with U.S. FDI stock in France totaling $83 billion. More than 1,240 affiliates of U.S. firms were present in France in 2012, supporting about 440,000 jobs. France was the U.S.’ eighth-largest goods-trading partner in 2013, with U.S. exports to France valued at $32 billion and imports from France totaling $45 billion.

Obama said the alliance with France “has never been stronger,” including working together on global political issues involving Iran and Syria. Hollande said the U.S. economic recovery is “an example to be followed” and serves as a lesson to Europe in promoting innovation.

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