The European Union was expected Wednesday to
announce the start of free trade negotiations with the United States,
hours after President Barack Obama said his administration would
pursue such a pact.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht were to address the media "on a major transatlantic trade initiative" at 1130 GMT.
In his annual State of the Union address Tuesday, Obama said free trade with the EU would bring benefits to the US economy.
"We will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union - because trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs," he said.
De Gucht was in Washington last week to finalize preparations with his US counterpart Ron Kirk for the trade talks to begin.
Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said securing a negotiating mandate for an EU-US free trade agreement was a top priority.
"This now opens up enormous untapped potential for a new phase in Europe's economic relations with the US," Gilmore said.
Free trade negotiations are complex and usually last many years. The EU is also seeking to establish partnerships with Canada, Japan and India.
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