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EU and US launch free-trade talks

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

BRUSSELS – The European Union and the US will begin formal talks on a free-trade agreement, paving the way for the biggest trade deal in history.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso made the announcement following President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.

A deal would bring down trading barriers between the two biggest economies in the world.

EU-US trade is worth around 455bn euros (393bn; $613bn) a year.

“A future deal between the world’s two most important economic powers will be a game-changer, giving a strong boost to our economies on both sides of the Atlantic,” said Barroso, speaking in Brussels.

The EU estimates that a “comprehensive and ambitious agreement” will boost annual GDP growth by 0.5 per cent.

Obama announced US support for talks as part of his annual address to the US Congress yesterday, saying a free-trade deal would “boost American exports, support American jobs and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia”.

It is not clear how long the talks will take, but similar trade deals have involved years of negotiations, and the BBC’s Gavin Hewitt in Brussels says the most optimistic timeframe given by European officials is two years.

A US-EU working group was established in 2011 to discuss the prospect of a free-trade agreement. (BBC)

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