US and EU consider bilateral trade talks
US and EU leaders have said at the conclusion of a White House summit that they could launch bilateral trade talks to boost jobs and growth.
They announced a joint working group to explore how to enhance the "untapped potential" of transatlantic economic co-operation.
The statement followed wide-ranging talks between US President Barack Obama and European Union leaders.
The US and EU account for around half of the world's economic output.
The 27 countries of the eurozone make up the largest trading partner for the US.
Doing 'the unthinkable'
Foreign aid and cybersecurity were also on the agenda as President Obama met EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Monday.
But the eurozone debt crisis loomed over their talks.
President Obama said after the meeting that this issue was of "huge importance" to the US economy.
"I communicated to them that the United States stands ready to do our part to help them resolve this issue," he said, adding that it would be tougher to create jobs at home if European markets were contracting.
The two sides said in a joint statement: "We must intensify our efforts to realise the untapped potential of transatlantic economic co-operation to generate new opportunities for jobs and growth."
It is thought the working group could look at the possibility of cutting tariffs and other regulation that might hamper trade.
The group, to be headed by EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht and US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, would "identify and assess options for strengthening the EU-US economic relationship, especially those that have the highest potential to support jobs and growth", said the statement.
An interim report is expected next June, with the final recommendations due by the end of 2012.
After the meeting, Mr Van Rompuy told journalists that the EU had been taking hitherto "unthinkable" measures to try to restore growth.
"But we have to do more," he added.
Although the US has struck free trade deals with countries around the world in recent years, it has not engaged in bilateral trade talks with the EU.
This is said to be partly out of concern it might detract from the Doha round of world trade talks. But those negotiations have dragged on for more than a decade with no clear end in sight.
Monday's summit was held as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development warned the eurozone economy was shrinking and that the UK could dip back into recession.
But world markets were up in response to reports of a proposed fiscal union that would set binding limits on eurozone government borrowing.
US-EU trade was up 15% in the first nine months of 2011, despite uncertainty in the global economy.
Trade between the US and EU is worth around $3.6bn (£2.3bn) per day and overall investment between the two supports around 7.1m jobs, according to the US Trade Representative's office.
The statement from Monday's summit also touched on issues on which the US and EU broadly agree - such as concerns over Iran's nuclear programme, nurturing clean energy technology and encouraging democracy in the wake of the Arab Spring.