BRUSSELS President Barack Obama's re-election opens the way for the United States and Europe to launch trade talks early next year, the EU's trade chief said on Wednesday.
The world's largest trading relationship already accounts for nearly a third of global trade, but weak growth prospects are pushing Brussels and Washington to consider a deal to reduce barriers to companies and unleash new sales and investments.
A group co-chaired by European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk will issue a report in December recommending talks, EU and U.S. officials told Reuters in October.
De Gucht said Obama's re-election cemented that.
"I am confident this report will allow President Obama and (EU officials) Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso to provide a green light early next year to launch negotiations towards a transatlantic trade agreement," De Gucht told Reuters in an emailed statement.
De Gucht, who handles trade issues for the 27-country EU, said he expected a "roadmap for future negotiations" that would seek to cut red tape "to unlock the unparalleled potential of the transatlantic market".
A deal could increase economic output by 122 billion euros ($156 billion) a year for Europe alone and add 0.52 percent to the EU's gross domestic product in the long term, according to European Commission estimates.
Transatlantic trade in goods and services is worth $700 billion a year and total U.S. annual investment in the European Union is higher than in all of Asia. EU investment in the United States far outstrips EU investment in India and China combined.
A free-trade pact would be the most ambitious in a new generation of sophisticated agreements that go beyond tariffs to take in intellectual property rights, services and regulation.
For example, a car tested for safety in the United States could be sold in Europe without further tests, while a drug deemed safe by Brussels would not have to be approved as well by the U.S. government, cutting costs for exporters.
"This is not a contentious deal like often difficult trade talks with Asia and Latin America," said an EU diplomat involved in trade issues and who has received visits from U.S. companies who favour a trade accord. "There's broad support, even if it is not a foregone conclusion."
Our top photos from the past week.