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Business leaders urge U.S., EU consider trade pact

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After President Barack Obama's commitment this month to a transpacific free trade agreement, business leaders in Europe and United States are asking for a similar initiative across the North Atlantic to spur economic growth and create jobs.

The private sector Transatlantic Business Dialogue wants Obama and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to agree when the two leaders meet on Monday to explore the idea of negotiating a "TransAtlantic Economic and Trade Pact."

The advisory group includes U.S. corporate giants General Electric , Coca-Cola and Microsoft as well as European heavyweights Airbus , Siemens and ThyssenKrupp .

The business leaders also called on Obama and Barroso to tackle the "transatlantic debt crisis" with a plan to bring debts and deficits back to sustainable levels and to take a number of steps to promote innovation and green growth.

"Even though the president had a very successful trip to Asia and many of our member companies of course are invested in Asia ... the transatlantic relationship is where the money is," Kathryn Hauser, the group's U.S. executive director for business organization, told Reuters on Tuesday.

Obama and leaders of eight other Asia Pacific economies announced this month in Honolulu they had agreed on the "broad outlines" of a deal to cut tariffs and other trade barriers and were committed to reaching a comprehensive final agreement.

Japan, Mexico and Canada also expressed interest in joining the talks on the Transpacific Partnership pact, which now include the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Peru and Chile.

Obama then traveled to the East Asia Summit in Indonesia, where he underscored that the United States sees its future prosperity tied to the fast-growing Asia Pacific region.

Still, the 27-nation European Union remains the United States' largest trade and investment partner.

Together, they account for about half of world economic output and nearly one-third of world trade. Two-way trade is about $3.6 billion a day and transatlantic investment supports an estimated 7.1 million jobs, according to the U.S. Trade Representative's Office website.

Claude Barfield, a resident trade scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said Obama was unlikely to start trade talks with the EU without first consulting with Congress.

Also, negotiating a U.S.-EU free trade pact "would not be a walk in the park" because of big differences in the way the two sides approach regulation, he said.

In addition, both Obama and Barroso have to consider that launching bilateral talks might kill off the beleaguered Doha round of world trade talks, soon to enter its eleventh year without any successful conclusion in sight.

An announcement the United States and the EU are starting talks on a bilateral pact could be seen by other World Trade Organization members as evidence that Washington and Brussels "have given up" on the Doha round, Barfield said.

In fact, the Transatlantic Business Dialogue - in a separate letter to White House international economic affairs adviser Michael Froman and EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht - pointed to the "fading" prospects for the Doha round as the reason for the United States and the EU should consider bilateral trade talks.

"The time is right to do something and do something that addresses the challenges our companies are facing today," not when the rules-based world trading system got its start in 1948 or was last modified in 1995, Hauser said.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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