European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht has asked for a mandate to negotiate a free trade accord with the United States.

EU governments must approve De Gucht's request, the first formal step in the process for beginning negotiations on an agreement that U.S President Barack Obama first announced during his February 12 State of the Union Address. Former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said on February 13 that "everything's on the table across all sectors," including agricultural issues and genetically modified products, Bloomberg News reported.

A free-trade accord would remove tariffs, ease regulatory barriers and expand access in investment, services and public procurement, according to the EU, which predicts a deal will boost trans-Atlantic gross domestic product by between 0.5 percent and 1 percent. Investment and trade in goods and services between the United States and Europe amounted to $4.9 trillion in 2011, EU figures show.

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France has voiced concerns that the free-trade talks will affect agriculture and food safety and EU governments may take time to weigh the request to start discussions. But De Gucht has said he expects to get the green light from the 27 member states.

Talks with the EU may help Obama meet his goal of doubling exports by the end of 2014 as World Trade Organization negotiations stall and China expands its role internationally.