Time to talk business in EU-US trade talks

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Far from dead, as the Doha rounds stalemate suggests, global trade is getting a make-over and the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) seems the right place to start, writes MEP Marietje Schaake.

Marietje Schaake is a Dutch member of European Parliament and the spokesperson for the Liberal (ALDE) group on EU-US trade relations. She is a member of the International Trade Committee and the Parliamentary Delegation for relations with the United States. On her website, www.marietjeschaake.eu, a Frequently Asked Questions section is dedicated to all developments on TTIP.  

"With the eurozone in crisis, a downward spiralling economy, rising unemployment taking centre stage throughout the EU, one word has created a positive buzz in Brussels lately: TTIP (pronounced: Tee-TIP). From Commission officials and trade MEPs to business and consumer rights organisations, the prospect of reaching a broad Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has brought  much needed energy and excitement to Washington and Brussels.

It is not the first time the world's largest trading blocs have tried to break down remaining barriers in the vast amounts of trade and investment crossing the Atlantic. This time the momentum seems right and stakes are high. Political capital has been invested by President Barack Obama and EU leaders alike. Besides the US and EU economies languishing for jobs and growth, the window of opportunity to jointly set standards for future economies is closing rapidly. Emerging trade blocs are evolving into powerhouses wishing to play increasingly active and competitive roles on the world stage.

Last month, China and Iceland signed a free trade agreement. It is the first time the Asian giant has entered into such a deal with a European country. Beijing has also been knocking on Brussels' doors to revamp direct trade and investment talks. India, too, has stepped up its game to show the EU it is committed to becoming a preferential trading partner. Japan is eager to join the Washington-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Far from dead, as the Doha rounds stalemate suggests, global trade is getting a make-over.

In light of a rapidly changing world, there is no time to waste. The EU and US should get down to business, and set the dates for the first formal negotiation round. On the American side, the White House has formally notified Congress of its intend to sign a comprehensive trade deal with the EU. Michael Froman, has been nominated to be the  next United States Trade Representative, would be tasked with taking the lead in negotiating TTIP. In Brussels, Commissioner Karel De Gucht – whose team exclusively negotiates on behalf of the EU member states – has submitted a broad and ambitious negotiating mandate to the Council for approval. With the exception of one, all member states seem to understand the importance of a strong and united EU voice at the negotiating table. Despite being a relatively new kid on the (trade) block, the European Parliament shares the ambition to create jobs and economic growth. The Parliament's International Trade Committee recently adopted a political resolution supporting the mandate for the trade talks.

Meanwhile, the contours of the treaty are appearing and technical work will start soon. While the agreement can be a good opportunity for increasing jobs and economic growth, either by cutting tariffs, further opening markets or by cooperating on regulatory and technical standards, the talks will be very challenging. Given the significant volumes of transatlantic trade, even minor eliminations of trade barriers will have large benefits. However, an agreement that merely cuts tariffs would miss the opportunity of moving towards an integrated transatlantic market place. A less than comprehensive deal could also damage the robustness of the transatlantic partnership.

The goal is for European manufacturers, service providers and investors to be able to do business with the US, and vice-versa, in less complicated ways. Creating new jobs and growth, without having to spend public money is an opportunity that we must seize. Together, the EU and the US account for a third of world trade, an ambitious deal can save both time and money. And there are calculations of broader trickle down effects. When entrepreneurs have new opportunities, in the end consumers will benefit.

In our rapidly changing world it is only logical that the EU and the US strengthen their partnership. An ambitious trade and investment deal will make us more competitive. That is also where TTIP is of added value for the next generation of Europeans and Americans. But, as the late US House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously said: “All politics is local.” The challenge will be to make sure the global perspectives translate to growth and jobs for people, whether they live in Ireland or Idaho, in Finland or Florida. We all share great responsibility to make sure that this partnership is created by and for people, not just for shareholders. I will push for transparent negotiations and will facilitate open discussions where stakeholders can meet and give input.

TTIP is a huge opportunity. It can help create economic growth and jobs we need, while solidifying our competitive position globally. But there are many hurdles to be  taken. Connecting the global perspectives to the local impact will be one such challenge. Yet, only when the impact is brought to the individual level, can we expect to get genuine and legitimate buy in."

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