WASHINGTON — New plans for a big European trade deal put President Barack Obama and Republican Congressman Devin Nunes of Visalia on the same page, for now.
Obama wants the deal covering trade and investment with the European Union. To get it, he must navigate the House of Representatives' trade panel, part of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, led by Nunes. What happens next will test the cooperation of two men who have rarely agreed on anything.
"I'm optimistic at this point," Nunes said Wednesday. "This is an area were we can work together in a bipartisan way."
Obama pleased Nunes and other free-traders Tuesday night when, in the State of the Union speech, he proposed negotiations on what the White House calls a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union. The potential pact would eliminate tariffs, cut quotas, streamline regulations and ease commercial traffic among some of the world's largest trading partners.
A new deal would build on a robust trading relationship between the United States and the 27-member European Union.
The United States exported $265 billion in goods to European countries last year, while U.S. imports of EU goods totaled $380 billion. Transatlantic trade in services is equally abundant.
U.S. businesses such as the California almond industry and Midwestern transportation equipment manufacturers rely on sales to the 500 million customers in the European Union.
"President Obama has always believed that a comprehensive agreement with the European Union and the United States could yield significant increases in U.S. exports ... while supporting additional jobs here in the United States," outgoing U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Wednesday.
It could take longer than some hope, potentially extending beyond Obama's time in office. It could twist political alignments in Congress, and it provides opportunities for those, like Nunes, central to the action.
A conservative from a farming family, Nunes, 39, has represented the San Joaquin Valley in the House since 2003. He's had sharp words for Obama. In October, he blasted the president's "dreamy pronouncements" on economic recovery.
Nunes has been laying a foundation for the pact; meeting, for instance, last week at the house of the European Union's ambassador to the United States.
"We know how to do these (deals)," Nunes said Wednesday. "Now we have to get to work."