U.S., E.U Bilateral Trade Deal 'Is Within Our Reach'

With both sides of the Atlantic suffering economic woes, there is renewed interest in a free-trade zone between the U.S. and the European Union. The idea has been discussed often but has always been defeated. Vice President Joe Biden has signaled Washington wants a deal with the E.U.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

NPR's business news starts with talk of a free-trade zone.

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GREENE: All right. With both sides of the Atlantic suffering economic woes, there is new interest in a free-trade zone between the United States and the European Union.

As Teri Schultz reports, the idea has come up before and hasn't gone anywhere.

TERI SCHULTZ, BYLINE: Vice President Joe Biden has given the strongest signal yet that Washington wants to make a deal with the EU. Speaking at an international conference in Munich Saturday, Biden urged a new approach - efficiency.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: If we go down that road, we should try to do it on one tank of gas and avoid protracted rounds of negotiations. This is within our reach. It would be good for growth. I believe we can overcome these differences and get this done, because the rewards - the rewards for success, are almost boundless.

SCHULTZ: Already each other's primary trading partner, the U.S. and EU have nonetheless been unable to agree to harmonize taxes, tariffs, regulations and standards, agriculture has been a particular sticking point.

Time to get over it, says Peter Chase, who heads up the Brussels office of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

PETER CHASE. U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: When you have an economic crisis, business as usual should never be good enough. We've taken it for granted too long.

SCHULTZ: Chase says creating the zone would earn or save hundreds of billions of dollars each year on each side.

But economist Andre Sapir of the Bruegel Institute says making a deal is about more than money, it's about power. Sapir says global shifts, particularly the rise of Asia, are making Washington and Brussels nervous.

ANDRE SAPIR: If we were in the old world where we were so much dominant, we would not be talking about this.

SCHULTZ: There's already been more than a year of pre-negotiation on whether it's even worth trying again.

EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht headed up those talks and he'll be in Washington this week, working out final details of a joint decision on whether to proceed with formal negotiations.

The answer is widely expected to be yes.

For NPR News, I'm Teri Schultz in Brussels.

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