Trans-Atlanticism can still rule the roost

The US and Europe have the opportunity to drive the global economy once more

Stephen Simchak
On 29 December 2011 12:57

While much of the world’s attention understandably is focused on the growing importance of Asia in the global economic system, November’s US-EU summit presents an opportunity for renewing the trans-Atlantic partnership. 

If successful, a new US-EU trade pact would not only have hemispheric implications, but could build into something much larger – a far-reaching pluri-lateral services agreement.

Though representatives of the members of the WTO at the December Ministerial paid lip service to concluding the Doha Round (also known as the Doha Development Agenda, or DDA), there was a quiet acceptance that alternative pathways to trade liberalisation must be found. 

Somewhat untethered from the DDA, governments are developing new ideas and breathing new life into old ideas to address 21st century trade barriers.  A US-EU trade pact is one such old idea that has received new attention and energy in the post-Doha trade regime. 

At the November US-EU summit, leaders called for the creation of a bilateral High-Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth under the umbrella of the ‘Transatlantic Economic Council’. 

The group’s mandate is to provide a report on avenues for trans-Atlantic trade liberalisation by the summer of 2012. 

While many promising ideas have died in the form of “working groups” and “committees”, I remain cautiously optimistic that the renewed focus on finding alternative pathways to trade liberalization has created an environment in which this Working Group, humble as its origins may be, can be the start of an ambitious, high-standard trade agreement.

The key to success in US-EU trade negotiations is to abandon the “single undertaking” model, and allow negotiations in services, manufacturing and agriculture to proceed independently. 

A similar plan for “parallel but separate negotiations” was recently proposed by the US Chamber of Commerce.

The benefits of such negotiations certainly are not limited to services, but a services-only negotiation between the EU and the US would build upon the highly beneficial trans-Atlantic services trade that already exists. 

While financial and other business-related services are those services that are most commonly associated with US-EU trade (think of the financial transactions between New York and London), telecom, legal, media, delivery and other services sectors have a great deal to gain from closer links between the Europe and the US as well.  If successful, the result would be a high-standard services agreement that should include an investment agreement, regulatory cooperation, the free flow of data, a level playing field between private and state-supported businesses, and address other 21st Century services trade issues.

That agreement could lead to significant economic growth in and of itself.  However, it is possible that it could grow larger as other nations ask to join the hypothetical high-standard US-EU services agreement out of fear of being left as disadvantaged trading partners of the world’s two largest services providers. 

Such an agreement would be consistent with Article V of the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services, and would set a new standard for services trade liberalisation. The anticipated growth of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, which Japan, Canada and Mexico seek to join, presents an example of how smaller trade negotiations can “snowball” into much larger agreements. 

The US-EU services agreement could evolve into a significant pluri-lateral services agreement – those countries that can and will join will enjoy its benefits, creating an incentive for others to join.

The challenges facing a successful conclusion of a US-EU trade pact are numerous.  However, the renewed focus on the trans-Atlantic economic partnership creates the possibility, however fraught with obstacles, to make a significant impact on the global trade regime.

Stephen Simchak is the Program Manager of a Washington-based association that represents U.S. services corporations in international trade matters, and previously was an aide to U.S. Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA)

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