ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland -- The European Union and the United States will open negotiations next month on a long-sought deal to create free trade between the world's two mightiest economic regions -- an effort that could create millions of jobs but that could also take years to transform from dream to reality.
U.S. and EU leaders announced the plans Monday while in Northern Ireland for the G-8 summit of wealthy nations.
"America and Europe have done extraordinary things before and I believe we can forge an economic alliance as strong as our diplomatic and security alliances, which, of course, are the most powerful in history," President Obama declared alongside EU leaders and the British host, Prime Minister David Cameron.
At stake is a vision of boosting the value of trans-Atlantic trade in goods and services that Obama said already exceeds $1 trillion annually, as well as $4 trillion annually in investment in each side's economies.
U.S. and EU officials agreed at the start of the Group of Eight summit that these already colossal trade figures could be much higher if only both sides agreed to dismantle high tariff walls and bureaucratic hurdles that block the competitive export of many products.
"The whole point is to fire up our economies and drive growth and prosperity around the world -- and there is no more powerful way to achieve that than by boosting trade," Cameron said against a backdrop of Northern Ireland's lush Fermanagh lakeland.
Cameron said a tariff- and barrier-free trade environment could generate an extra $150 billion annually for the 27-nation European Union, perhaps $120 billion for the United States, and provide a similar growth jolt for the rest of the world.
The British leader said these figures would mean, in practical terms, "2 million extra jobs, more choice and lower prices in our shops. We're talking about what could be the biggest bilateral trade deal in history. ... This is a once-in-a-generation prize, and we are determined to seize it."
A White House statement said the talks could start the week of July 8. Both sides hope to reach agreement by late 2014.