It is increasingly likely that EU leaders will announce the start of landmark talks on a free-trade agreement with the US at their summit next week (7-8 February).A debate about trade relations with the US has been included on the agenda, which notes that “new developments” are expected. That note adds significance to a visit by Karel De Gucht, the European trade commissioner, to Washington, DC on 5 February.
On Saturday (26 January), he said the trip should clear up “a couple of small items” in a report by the bilateral High-Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth on the value of embarking on negotiations. “We will have a common recommendation,” he said.
A joint recommendation would also free US President Barack Obama to highlight the possibility of a transatlantic deal in his State of the Union speech on 12 February.
De Gucht will visit Ottawa after Washington, DC, in an attempt to conclude a free-trade deal with Canada, after hopes of settling their remaining differences before Christmas proved vain.
Announcements about trade with the US and Canada would underscore a broader statement by EU leaders about their commitment to trade. Last year, the EU reached agreements liberalising trade with Singapore, Peru, Colombia and six central American countries. The Commission also won a mandate for trade talks with Japan.
EU leaders will also discuss relations with the Arab world two years after the start of the Arab uprisings. The conclusions are likely to re-state the EU's commitment to the region and the hopes for a “negotiated solution” to Syria's civil war. No major announcements are expected, though diplomats recently held what one described as a “brainstorming session” about EU policy.