European trade minsters have made progress on finding a common starting position for planned free trade talks with the US, according to Minister Richard Bruton.

EU ministers met in Dublin Castle to try to launch an ambitious scheme to bring about a free trade area with the United States.

A final liberalisation of the world’s biggest trading relationship could, according to the European Commission, boost EU GDP by 0.5% a year and add some 400,000 jobs.

EU-US trade accounts for one third of global trade flows and is worth about €2 billion a day.

With a bigger than average share of trade with the US, Ireland could be a big gainer from any new agreement.

However getting more out of it will mean confronting some very strong lobby groups, including farmers.

Highlighting the importance of the talks, US President Barack Obama’s top trade advisor was at Dublin Castle this morning; the first time a US trade official has taken part in an EU ministers’ meeting.

WTO chief warns of slow progress on EU-US talks

Both the US and EU would like the economic gain coming from a trade deal but Pascal Lamy, the head of the World Trade Organisation, warned minsters that opening up key sectors like agriculture could lead to a slow process, and less gains than they thought.

In an interview with RTÉ News he said while there is a general willingness to push forward with further liberalisation, neither side has made clear exactly what it wants to get out of the deal.

As tariff barriers are very low between the EU and US - averaging less than 3% - the main focus of the talks will be on removing technical and regulatory impediments to free trade, which will involve either harmonising technical standards, or agreeing mutual recognition of each others’ standards and regulations.

Mr Lamy also said that European countries should look to Africa for big growth in exports.

He said Africa was the fastest growing region of the world, and in a few years time will have a population to rival that of China.

Urging Europeans not to neglect the continent and its development needs, Mr Lamy said because of the proximity and size of Africa "pretty soon what will happen in the middle of Africa will be of more importance than what happens in the middle of Korea''.

Ahead of the US trade discussion, Mr Lamy was involved in a working session on the long running Doha trade round with EU ministers this morning.

Mr Lamy told RTÉ that the negotiations had been going on a very long time because the WTO members had decided that "nothing will be agreed until everything has been agreed".

However, he said that it may be possible to close one or two of the 20 dossiers for negotiation separately, particularly in the area of making customs regulations simpler and cheaper to comply with - a move that would be particularly useful for SMEs.