Transatlantic trade talks: Lobbying opportunities through the back door

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The trade deal would undoubtedly provide enormous opportunities for American industry. The benefits to businesses will most certainly come from the elimination of tariffs, in particular in those sectors where they have been remarkably high. But tariffs alone have not been the only barrier to trade. Most benefits for the industry, in fact will mainly derive from the smoothing out of the regulatory differences that so far have been an impediment to trade.

In other words, the EU-U.S. trade negotiations will offer many U.S. firms a second chance to get their interests implemented effectively in Europe. Thanks to this process numerous sectors that have been fighting for change for decades could see their fortunes turn around within a short period of time.  
Numerous contentious issues, such as copyright, patent regulations, subsidies, procurement, foreign ownership limits and so on will also be addressed during the negotiations.

Agriculture is sure to find itself in the limelight during the coming negotiations. The sensitive issue of agricultural subsidies will certainly be up for discussion.

Genetically modified crops, a sub-theme of the greater agricultural discussion, are also another theme that would be in the spotlight. U.S. seed companies that for a decade have been struggling to break the deadlock over the authorization for the cultivation of their seeds now will be presented with the ultimate opportunity to change the entire process to suit their needs.

Other sectors such as pharmaceuticals, autos, maritime freight sector and aircraft manufacturers could also potentially benefit during the trade talks. 
 
While the EU-US FTA talks is an exciting opportunity for greater access of U.S. products and services in Europe, interested firms should not underestimate Brussels. Effective lobbying campaigns in the EU capital should be paramount for all American firms if they want to maximize the benefits from the talks.

Lobbying during the trade talks is particularly important since the negotiations will be based on compromise. As a result, the comprehensive trade talks will benefit some sectors more than others. Some industries will also lose as a result of the package deal. U.S. companies that will engage in the process and that will come up with the most convincing arguments by understanding the political and social realities in both sides of the Atlantic will have the best chance to make the most of the trade talks.
 
While many U.S. firms cover their lobbying needs in Washington pretty well, this is not always the case in Brussels. Therefore, U.S. companies must increase their Brussels lobbying and should treat it equally to their efforts in Washington D.C. Brussels is no longer a place where they can simply “walk over”. There is a need to engage seriously through government relations’ campaigns instead of simply public affairs work.
 
Washington D.C. and Brussels are both complex and yet very different environments. What works in the U.S. does not necessarily yield results in Brussels. U.S. companies should seek professional lobbying services, and especially lobby firms that understand the politics, process and rules of engagement in Brussels. They should rely on firms that understand sensitivities in Europe. Lobbying in Brussels should not be a learning exercise. Timing will be crucial.
 
Considering the ambitious agenda and the deadline set for the conclusion of the talks, interested parties should start engaging now to make the most of the opportunities and avoid disappointment.

Geiger is managing partner of the EU lobbying firm Alber & Geiger.

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