By Justine Revenaz, Editorial Assistant at “European Affairs”
While no one expects an EU-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to be completed in this U.S. election year, prospects for a pact in the medium term future have brightened with the publication of a favorable interim report from a joint U.S.-EU working group. The report and background surrounding it is the subject of a recent article in European Affairs.
A joint US-EU statement by U.S. President Barack Obama, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy welcomed the interim report. “Particularly at this time, a bold initiative to expand trade and investment could make a significant contribution to our strategy to strengthen growth and create jobs”. The statement added, “We are encouraged by the Report's analysis of the benefits.”
“The idea of an FTA has wide support in the European Parliament” said Malcolm Harbour, chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection, at a European Institute meeting in Washington DC on July 18th.
The Wall Street Journal joined the chorus and editorialized recently that “an immediate and vocal commitment to free trade with Europe—followed by prompt action to make it happen—would send a powerful signal of America's enduring confidence in its closest and deepest economic relationship.”
The possibility of the long awaited U.S.-EU trade advance was applauded elsewhere. Neurope.eu wrote: “De Gucht said that the Commission is prepared for future negotiations and while the talks on investment are progressing well, there are serious efforts to advance negotiations on trade and services, paving a way to a comprehensive agreement”
The U.S. business community supports an FTA, although there will be issues from agricultural producers. Myron Brilliant, the senior vice president of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce explained that “with the Interim Report of this Group released last week, both sides are getting serious”.
Brilliant added: “European leaders have already said they are ready for an ambitious transatlantic agreement. The administration should commit now to launching negotiations. We need growth, not more studies. We cannot let election cycles stand in the way. World markets are waiting for policy-makers to act, and an announcement that U.S. and European leaders are determined to integrate our economies more closely would immediately improve on markets and business confidence. It’s time to put the U.S. and Europe on a growth track”
Theparliament.com, a Brussels based on line journal on political affairs, reports that “Senior Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder has called for a "game changing" EU-US free trade agreement.” Adding a sense of urgency to the FTA prospect, Bearder stated: "I call on the European commission and their American counterparts to launch negotiations for a free trade agreement as soon as possible.”
As European Affairs explained, “the leaders are favoring an EU-US FTA that is broad in scope, covering the removal both of conventional trade tariffs and of regulatory barriers to trade in goods, services and investment”. Launching negotiations, though, is no easy task; the usual U.S. labor objections to FTAs, regulatory differences, notably Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) regulations, agricultural subsidy issues and government procurement issues will complicate the progress of a comprehensive FTA.
Bill Reinsch, the president of the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) said that although NFTC welcomed the interim report, “rather than waiting to have every detail ironed out or creating more unnecessary bureaucracy before beginning actual negotiations, the NFTC urges the U.S. and EU to accelerate the process and move forward immediately with meaningful, results-oriented negotiations.”