Obama and EU Leaders Consider Bilateral Trade Agreement

Following the conclusion of a White House summit on Monday, U.S. and European Union leaders have said that they could launch bilateral trade talks to boost jobs and growth. They announced a joint working group last night to explore how to enhance the “untapped potential” of transatlantic economic cooperation.

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The statement followed wide-ranging talks between President Barack Obama and European Union leaders. The 27 countries in the EU make up the largest trading partner for the U.S. Combined, the U.S. and EU account for roughly half of all the world’s economic output.

While foreign aid and cybersecurity were also on the agenda when President Obama met with EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, the euro-zone debt crisis cast a pall upon negotiations. After the meeting, Obama said that the debt crisis was a n issue of “huge importance” to the U.S. economy.

“I communicated to them that the United States stands ready to do our part to help them resolve this issue,” he said, adding that it would be harder to create jobs at home if European markets were contracting.

The two sides said in a joint statement: “We must intensify our efforts to realize the untapped potential of transatlantic economic co-operation to generate new opportunities for jobs and growth.”

The working group, to be headed by EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, will “identify and assess options for strengthening the EU-U.S. economic relationship, especially those that have the highest potential to support jobs and growth,” according to the statement.

The working group may consider cutting tariffs and other regulations that might hamper trade. Although the U.S. has struck numerous trade agreements with countries around the world in recent years, it has never engages in bilateral trade talks with the EU.

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Trade between the U.S. and the EU was up 15% in the first nine months of 2011. Trade between the two regions is worth roughly $3.6 billion per day, while overall investment between the two supports roughly 7.1 million jobs, according to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.