TRADE talks between the European Union and the US, due to be announced tomorrow, have the potential to give a "shot in the arm" to the Irish export industry which is flagging as exports to the US decline, the Irish Exporters' Association (IEA) said yesterday.
US President Barack Obama is expected to formally announce the start of Free Trade Agreement negotiations tomorrow when he makes his annual state of the union speech to Congress, which presidents traditionally use to lay out their priorities for the year.
"Particularly at this time, the announcement of a bold initiative to expand trade and investment, will immediately improve market and business confidence not just in the EU and US, but globally," said IEA boss John Whelan. The talks could "make a significant contribution to our export strategy which is very dependent on EU and US market growth," he added.
"Irish trade with the US is going through a period of contraction right now, with exports last year falling by €3bn.
"Hence, the agreement is particularly important to the Irish export industry and is expected to create a climate of added investment into Ireland and create a return to strong growth in goods and services exports to the US."
European leaders agreed last Friday to push for a free-trade pact with the US, putting the onus on the White House to decide whether to try for a deal that would encompass half the world's economic output.
Major exporters Germany and Britain won support from the rest of the EU at a summit in Brussels to reach a deal with Washington that many leaders hope will help Europe pull out of its banking and debt crises.
In their final statement, leaders said the EU gave "its support for a comprehensive trade agreement" with the US. A US trade official in Washington said that EU leaders' unity was "helpful in building confidence that the EU has the political will to do what is necessary for an agreement."
Europe's main business lobby, Business Europe, urged Mr Obama to embrace the momentum, calling on him to give "a strong signal" and "political support" for the talks.
With economic growth elusive on both sides of the Atlantic, Mr Obama and EU leaders tasked their trade chiefs in 2011 to look at whether it was feasible to agree a deal to further integrate the two blocs that already have low tariffs.
A US-EU draft proposal drawn up by EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht and US trade representative Ron Kirk is essentially ready.