EU, US leaders pledge efforts for trade deal

Van Rompuy Obama.jpg

The European Union and the United States promised on 20 November to use their considerable economic weight to try to secure a successful conclusion to the Doha round of global trade negotiations in 2011.

US President Barack Obama held two hours of talks with Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, and José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Lisbon, with both sides emphasising the importance of their economic relationship.

They reaffirmed a commitment made at the G20 summit in Seoul this month to promote balanced growth and avoid competitive currency devaluations that can lead to global imbalances, and underlined the critical importance of bolstering trade.

"We highlighted our commitment to reject protectionism as a response to the challenges our economies face," read a joint statement released after their first summit in a year.

"We reiterated our strong commitment to direct our negotiators to engage in across-the-board negotiations to promptly bring the Doha Development Agenda to a successful, ambitious, comprehensive and balanced conclusion.

"We recognised that 2011 is a critical window of opportunity and that engagement among all negotiators must intensify and expand to complete an agreement that will expand trade and open markets."

The EU's chief trade negotiator has said he expects Doha, which is aimed at lowering global trade barriers to stimulate economic activity, will be successfully completed in 2011.

Economic weight

The EU and United States, with a combined population of more than 800 million people, are the two largest trading powers in the world. The combined value of goods and services commerce between them is more than $4 trillion a year.

Saturday's summit, which was originally scheduled to take place in May but was postponed after US officials said there was no point in meeting if there was nothing to talk about, was billed by the EU as a high-level meeting of equals.

But coming after Obama had just completed a high-profile 10-day visit to Asia, and held on the sidelines of a summit of NATO's 28 leaders, the short EU-US meeting lacked moment. The EU and US leaders did not take questions from journalists.

"This summit was not as exciting as other summits because we basically agree on everything," Obama said.

US and EU officials said afterwards that the meeting had been warm and open, and said the economic crisis in Europe, where debt problems that swamped Greece in May now threaten to deluge Ireland and spread to Portugal, was discussed.

"There were discussions on specific countries, including Ireland," US ambassador to the EU, William Kennard, told reporters. "President Obama recognised that the EU has put in place a mechanism to address the situation."

NATO seeks missile defence agreement with Russia

Earlier, during the NATO summit, Obama said the most important thing he could do for the European economy was to promote growth and jobs in the United States, saying that the quicker the US economy recovered, the better it was for all.

NATO leaders agreed on Friday to develop a missile system to protect the territory of all NATO member states in Europe and North America. It will be capable of intercepting long-range missiles fired from the Middle East.

Russia will be invited to be involved in the system when President Dmitry Medvedev meets US President Barack Obama and other NATO leaders at the summit in Portugal, but it remains unclear what role Moscow might play.

The system would be designed to defend against intercontinental ballistic missiles fired from Iran or North Korea, but Russia is reluctant to join a programme that defines Iran as a potential missile threat.

NATO member Turkey also is opposed to identifying Iran, a neighbour and ally, as a possible aggressor. NATO sources said leaders had agreed not to name Iran in a statement that will refer to the missile shield, securing Turkey's support.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen will hope language can be found to satisfy Russia and make the missile defence cooperation possible.

Phase out from Afghanistan

The NATO summit largely has focused on the military alliance's role in Afghanistan, where 150,000 US and NATO-led troops are fighting a Taliban insurgency.

Rasmussen said on Friday that NATO forces would begin handing over security responsibility to Afghan forces next year, aiming to end foreign forces' involvement in combat operations by the end of 2014 so they can concentrate on training.

Some NATO and Pentagon officials have expressed doubt that the 2014 deadline can be met because of the rising threat posed by Taliban insurgents to Afghanistan's weak government.

But Rasmussen said he believed it was a realistic goal and one that would allow NATO to focus on training Afghan troops.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

The EU-US relationship came under increasing strain during the eight years of the George W. Bush administration, with issues such as the war in Iraq and the War on Terror dividing Europeans and Americans alike.

With the election of Barack Obama, the EU got the US president it wanted. However, the EU's high expectations were not met, as illustrated by the reluctance of European leaders to engage more in Afghanistan, the disillusions of the Copenhagen climate summit, and Obama's decision to snub the 24-25 May EU-US Madrid summit.

More recently, the European Parliament refused to rubber-stamp the interim SWIFT agreement between the EU and the US on the transfer of citizens' financial data to prevent terrorist attacks.

However, as well as representing an ideological divide, the SWIFT issue appeared as an affirmation of the European Parliament's increased power under the Lisbon Treaty. MEPs approved a revised SWIFT agreement in July by 484 votes to 109.

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