The Washington Post

Kerry promotes U.S.-European trade deal

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets with France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius at the Quai d' Orsay in Paris on March 27, 2013. (Jason Reed/AP)

A trade deal linking the United States and Europe could lift Europe out of its economic doldrums and promote fairer competition with emerging economic powers that don’t play by global trade, environmental and labor rules, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Wednesday.

“This trade agreement, if we move rapidly, can have a profound impact on the rest of the world,” Kerry told French business leaders.

France wants to slow down consideration of the proposed transatlantic free-trade zone encompassing about 40 percent of the world’s trade. Germany and Britain are in favor of the plan and want to move fast.

President Obama highlighted the proposed agreement during his State of the Union address last month, and U.S. officials are pushing it as an economic shot in the arm that would add jobs while countering the rising economic power of China.

Obama, Kerry said, believes that now “is an enormously important moment for us to sort of get the future right.”

The United States and the 27-member European Union want to begin trade talks June. U.S. officials have said a deal could be reached by the end of next year.

Kerry said a trade deal is “within reach,” and he pushed French industrialists and others to be open-minded.

Business leaders were invited to a small breakfast with Kerry hosted by the U.S. ambassador on the final day of a trip that also took Kerry to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Obama administration says a comprehensive deal would further open European markets and expand exports to the euro zone of U.S. goods and services, currently worth $459 billion a year. Backers say the deal would add more than 13 million jobs in the United States and Europe.

But supporters also fear that trade talks will bog down or collapse over parochial concerns and must be streamlined to succeed. They point to stalled World Trade Organization talks hosted in Doha, Qatar.

Meanwhile, China and other nations could erode U.S. and European market share and lower standards for competition in a “race to the bottom,” Kerry said Wednesday.

“Obviously, we both have mature economies,” he said. “We’re operating in a new world of voracious appetites in the marketplace, with people playing by different rules and some by no rules at all.”

He gave a nod to one of the objections that France is expected to raise, over what it calls cultural exceptions to free trade on products with a specific geographic or national significance, such as Champagne wine.

“We get it,” and those bumps can be worked out, Kerry said.

Anne Gearan is a national politics correspondent for The Washington Post.
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