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US-EU talks set on free trade

Meal starter kits get a fresh twist

BRUSSELS — The European Union and the United States said Wednesday that they have agreed to pursue talks aimed at achieving an overarching trans-Atlantic free trade deal.

The 27-country European Union said such an agreement, first announced in Tuesday’s State of the Union address by President Obama, would be the biggest bilateral trade deal ever negotiated.

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Any deal could boost the European Union’s economic output by 0.5 percent and the United States’ by 0.7 percent, according to some estimates. That would be highly desirable; the European Union and the United States are struggling with slow growth, high unemployment, and high debt.

‘‘Both of us need growth,’’ said Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission. ‘‘And both of us have budgetary problems.’’

In a joint statement, Obama, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, and Barroso said they were ‘‘committed to making this relationship an even stronger driver of our prosperity.’’

Trade between America and the European Union is already huge, reaching $2.69 billion a day, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said.

Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, estimates a comprehensive deal could boost US output 0.7 percentage points.

A high-level US-EU working group on jobs and growth said goals of the agreement would include removing import tariffs, which average 4 percent, and getting rid of other barriers to trade such as the approval processes businesses go through to sell products on both sides of the Atlantic.

‘‘There seems to be a consensus that the cost of a product contains about 10 percent of red tape,” De Gucht said.

He said the trade deal would stimulate growth because if tariffs are removed and red tape reduced, products would be cheaper. This in turn would increase demand — and more jobs because the manufacturer would need to hire more people to fill the orders.

In addition, he said, consumers would benefit from lower, more uniform prices.

De Gucht said initial talks should start by summer. They will cover a huge array of commercial and agricultural areas. Officials hope to complete them within two years.

‘‘For these negotiations to succeed, we need above all political will,’’ Barroso said. ‘‘These negotiations will not be easy.’’

Agriculture will prove to be difficult to negotiate. For instance, the United States plans to push the EU to relax its ban on genetically modified crops.

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