Countries agree to widen access to gov't contracts

By the Associated Press | December 15, 2011 | 7:55 AM EST

GENEVA (AP) — Trade officials say the United States, European Union, Canada, Japan and other countries have agreed after 14 years of talks to give foreign companies greater access to each others' government procurement contracts.

European Union officials said the agreement was reached after the 27-nation EU and Japan ironed out remaining differences early Thursday.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the deal would benefit American jobs and he hoped China would join it soon.

The World Trade Organization estimates that the agreement could add between $80 billion and $100 billion to global trade each year.

As part of the agreement Japan will allow foreign companies to bid for contracts in the $100-million reconstruction of regions hit by this year's tsunami.