Powerful U.S. agricultural groups could probably block a trade deal from winning approval in Congress. In interviews, representatives of many of these groups said they would oppose a deal that didn't address the regulatory differences.
Robert Thompson, an academic at Johns Hopkins University and a former economist for the Agriculture Department, said that the agricultural issues could easily upend the talks.
"I'm not expecting an agreement to emerge any time soon," he said. "I'm thinking years."
Of course, the rhetoric at the beginning of talks might not preclude compromise in the end. In his talk with the export council, Obama expressed optimism. He noted that austerity measures in response to the debt crisis in the EU have caused European countries to look to a free trade deal as a rare opportunity to boost the economy and improve competitiveness.
"I think they are hungrier for a deal than they have been in the past," he said.
Melvin reported from Brussels.
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