Preliminary talks to launch a trans-Atlantic trade agreement between the United States and the European Union could evolve into much more serious negotiations as early as spring of 2013, according to a Reuters news report.  Both EU and U.S. officials have both confirmed the decision to move ahead, but the report notes that the final paper of a joint working group recommending the trade pact is not expected until December.

In its preliminary report issued in June the High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth determined that a comprehensive agreement that addresses a broad range of bilateral trade and investment policies would provide the most significant benefits of the various options it has considered.

Officials are quoted that a U.S.-EU trade agreement will “go beyond tariffs” to cover issues such as standards, regulatory harmonization, intellectual property rights, services, and government procurement. However, Reuters also noted that “both sides appear likely to leave much of the highly sensitive agricultural sector out of the agreement altogether.”

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said earlier this year that any new trans-Atlantic trade negotiation “would need to achieve full liberalization of market access for all categories of goods and expand transatlantic flows of services and investment” and should also “identify new approaches to non-tariff barriers” such as health- and safety-related measures. Specifically, he said, the United States would want any such agreement to be “at least as broad and ambitious” as existing U.S. trade agreements.

EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht has made similar remarks, saying the two sides should get as close as possible to the removal of all duties on transatlantic trade in industrial and agricultural goods; open services markets that are currently closed; put in place a framework for better cooperation between regulators; attempt to secure national treatment at all levels of government procurement; improve regulatory cooperation on both food and non-food products; and “establish state of the art rules in key areas like competition, trade facilitation, labor, the environment, and intellectual property.”