WASHINGTON — U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday that Europe was now "hungrier" than ever for a transatlantic free trade pact, but warned that thorny objections from holdout nations could still stymie a deal.
Obama, speaking at an export promotion event at the White House complex, said he was "modestly optimistic" that a deal, previewed in his State of the Union address a month ago, was possible.
He said that Europe's economic woes and difficulty in finding an engine of growth were making the continent's leaders more open to a free trade accord that could include difficult choices, notably in the agriculture sector.
"What I think has changed is the recognition throughout Europe that it is hard for them to figure out a recipe for growth at this point, in part because of the austerity measures that have been put in place throughout Europe.
"So they're hungrier for a deal than they've been in the past," Obama said.
"I think there will still be a heavy slog, there's no guarantee [that] in the end, some of the countries that have been hard cases in the past won't block it again."
"But I think that you're going to see more pressure from more countries on the other side of the Atlantic to get this done than we've seen in the past."
A Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would create the world's largest free trade area, liberalize investment and harmonize regulation, boosting economic growth and jobs.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said last month such a deal would add 0.5% to the EU economy every year and both sides have established an 18-month timeframe for complicated talks on a pact.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013