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Mon, Jun 28, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Bush, EU officials aim at building closer trade ties

AP , ENNIS, IRELAND

US President George W. Bush and top EU officials said on Saturday they would start "vigorous discussions" to build even closer economic ties, strengthening a trading relationship which is already the world's largest.

At an EU-US summit at Dromoland Castle in western Ireland, Bush said trade barriers should be further lowered to boost trans-Atlantic trade that already amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

"Our trade and investment relationship is the largest in the world, one that creates millions of jobs across the Atlantic," Bush said. "Lowering trade barriers increases the prosperity of all our nations."

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, whose country currently holds the EU presidency and who hosted the three-hour summit, said the EU-US trade partnership was "fundamental to the prosperity of Europe and America." He said it was responsible for the creation of some 12 million jobs.

European Commission President Romano Prodi, attending his last EU-US summit as chief of the union's executive before stepping down in October, said the trade ties were "rock solid" adding that US$2 billion flow every day across the Atlantic."

In a summit statement, the two sides agreed to "engage in a vigorous discussion of concrete ideas on how to further trans-Atlantic economic integration to the fullest."

They agreed to come up with a possible to-do list, to lower trade tariffs and other barriers and eliminate red tape that prevents further two-way investment by the next EU-US summit in 2005.

Despite vehement disagreements over the war in Iraq, economic relations between Washington and the 25-nation EU have improved, moving beyond years of nasty trade spats and sanctions at the World Trade Organization.

Last year, the EU exported US$407 billion in goods and services to the US and imported US$315 billion in return.

Two-way direct foreign investment totaled US$1.8 trillion in 2002.

Trade is expected to grow even further with the expansion of the EU last month by 10 mostly eastern European nations

However, sticking points remain, including efforts to get an EU-US "open skies" agreement back on track. Negotiations on liberalizing trans-Atlantic flights began last year but failed to get a deal by the summit deadline.

In a statement, both sides said they would continue negotiations "working toward a comprehensive aviation accord that will expand opportunities."

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