WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and the European Union should seize a promising opportunity to restore much-needed economic growth by starting bilateral free trade talks early next year, Britain's ambassador to the United States said on Wednesday.
"Estimates suggest that a comprehensive deal covering goods, agriculture, services, investment, government procurement and regulatory co-operation would be worth two to three percent in GDP gains to the EU and the U.S.," British Ambassador Peter Westmacott said in the prepared text of a speech.
A comprehensive U.S.-EU agreement that opens new markets would increase business confidence on both sides of the Atlantic, encouraging companies to invest some of the trillions of dollars they have sitting on the sideline, Westmacott said.
"It is a chance for us to set the standard for 21st century free trade agreements - a chance to shape the progress of globalization as opposed to being shaped by it. And the political stars are aligned within the EU in a way they may not be again for some time. We cannot let the opportunity slip through our fingers," he told the Washington International Trade Association.
The United States and the EU, already the world's largest trading partners, have been exploring the possibility of launching bilateral free trade talks since late last year.
Westmacott said he hoped the United States would go ahead with talks, regardless of whether President Barack Obama, a Democrat, or his Republican challenger Mitt Romney wins the presidential election in November.
"Despite the low level of our current tariffs, the huge size of our commercial relationship means that the potential economic benefits would be far greater than from any prior free trade agreement," he said.
Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Andrea Ricci