During my three years as chairman of the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee (INTA), several high-profile issues have stirred considerable excitement: the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty and the increase of Parliament’s role in trade policy; the ratification of the European Union-Korea Free Trade Agreement; the refocusing of the Generalized System of Preferences; and the debate on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
At once the most unexpected and welcome development, however, was the November 2011 launch of the High Level EU-U.S. Working Group and their yearlong exploration of the feasibility of an EU-U.S. Free Trade Agreement — unexpected because this project had long been taboo in European Union trade policy, for fear that a bilateral deal between two of the world’s largest economies would hurt the Doha Round beyond repair; and welcome because of the great potential for mutual gains.
Yet, the deadlock in Geneva is such that we cannot afford to wait another 10 years to reap the benefits of a more integrated transatlantic marketplace. We must explore all possible avenues to enable growth and job creation in our two economies and improve our competitiveness worldwide. A bilateral deal now seems the best option.
The European Parliament unambiguously supports this path. In October, more than 80 percent of European Parliament members called for talks on a possible trade deal with the United States to start early next year as a way to exploit the huge potential for growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. Subsequent widespread support for such an initiative comes as no surprise: EU-U.S. trade is the world’s largest, our economies are interlinked in an unparalleled way, we share many common values and traditions, and we are each other’s closest ally. If there is any win-win trade negotiation, this is it.
The strategic dimension of such a transatlantic rapprochement figures prominently in the minds of members of the European Parliament. It is clear that the time is now to reaffirm the historical, cultural and economic links between the EU and the U.S. We face a number of common challenges globally that we must address together, rather than separately.
Although tariffs on goods traded across the Atlantic are low — less than 3 percent on average — the total traded is so large that an elimination of existing tariffs would deliver major economic benefits. Moreover, the biggest gains lie in the approximation and recognition of each other’s standards and regulatory procedures, in increased trade of services and greater access to each other’s procurement markets.
An agreement that eliminates tariffs and other barriers between the U.S. and the EU could strengthen GDP on both sides of the Atlantic and generate hundreds of thousands of additional jobs. But delivering such an agreement is not going to be easy, and very divergent interests exist between both countries. As close as we are to the U.S., we don’t see eye to eye on issues such as agriculture, maritime transport, GMOs and cloned animals. I believe, however, that these differences, profound as they might be, must not get in the way of the big-picture benefits that will result from the negotiation and implementation of an ambitious free trade agreement.
A member of the European Parliament from Portugal, Moreira is chairman of the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee. He hails from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament.