President Obama is already making news in his final two years, striking a carbon deal in Beijing. Meanwhile, his efforts to negotiate a nuclear settlement with Iran are as strident as ever. Proactive diplomacy is in the air. And following a recent White House press release, transatlantic trade appears next on the agenda. 

All this comes as pro-free trade Republicans seizes the congressional majority. China’s clout is growing. Russia’s belligerence looms ever larger. Economic recovery on both sides of the Atlantic rests on shaky ground. 


In short, the political ground is fertile, and there are numerous factors that make a signature bilateral agreement mutually advantageous. 

To that end, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) may soon become a reality. But winds are swift to change. Both sides must act fast, or risk failure on a matter of vital geopolitical and economic importance. 

The scope of a potential trade agreement is massive. The U.S. and EU exchange more than $1 trillion in goods and services annually. TTIP would cover a marketplace that features 45 percent of global GDP and a third of world trade. 

As within any other such deal, antagonists will cite the individual losses that come with any massive structural change. Instances of outsourcing and falling U.S. wages as a result of NAFTA are a prime example. 

But the outcomes should be positive on aggregate. Whatever the agreement looks like in its final form, reductions in tariffs and regulation are a certainty. New norms will be established. All of the above increase the productivity and volume of trade, boosting growth and lowering costs.  

Unfortunately, negotiations have gotten bogged down.  

Yet, Coordinating the myriad of differing rules and regulations is immense. Further, both sides face internal pressure to carve out certain protections. For instance, the U.S. wants to exclude food safety regulations, which are far stricter across the Atlantic. Similar cases abound on both sides.  As a result, going has been slow. 

But there is reason for optimism. A series of external changes are altering the status quo in favor of the proponents.   

First, recent events in Crimea threaten trade ties with Russia. The prospect of a trade disruption scares both sides. 

Second, despite Washington’s “pivot” to Asia, it knows better than to make any such shift absolute. Its alliance with Europe is critical to the balance of power.  

Third, power has changed in the U.S. legislature. 

Republicans will be looking for tangible early victories. Historically, they support free-trade agreements (FTA’s) and should remain heavily in favor. 

Finally, and perhaps of the most immediate importance, President Obama has given every signal that TTIP will be a major focus. 

Republicans have slammed his carbon deal with China. And he persists with nuclear talks vis-à-vis Iran despite mistrust at the bargaining table and more domestic political opposition. 

Yet all the same, Obama has stuck a clear flag in the ground. He wants diplomacy to be a core component of his legacy. To accomplish that goal, he is advancing on all fronts. 

To that end, he issued a joint press release on Sunday with numerous EU member states at the G-20 Summit urging TTIP negotiators to “make all possible progress over the coming year.” 

However, ironically, many of same the factors portending progress on TTIP are also cause for pessimism. 

While Russian aggression may have emboldened some, it has cowed others. Numerous stakeholders have lucrative deals in place with Moscow. Will they risk jeopardizing them? 

And we have heard that change is coming in Washington for some time with little end product. The comprehensive immigration package that failed to materialize in the current session comes to mind. 

Further, some will say that the deal with Beijing is a more probably precursor to a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) than TTIP. There is the risk that the tangible progress made with China will put Europe lower on the docket. 

But surely the positives are enough to push the argument over the edge. 

Financial experts are forecasting an economic slowdown.  Productivity gains from TTIP will help offset projected losses. 

And both parties must take a step back and look at the larger diplomatic picture. Russia’s belligerence has both sides on alert. Problems in the Middle East persist. China’s economy and influence continue their rapid expansion. TTIP is exactly the kind of show of solidarity these opaque times require. 

With action so advantageous then, opportunities to act cannot be left on the table. 

The stars have aligned in the U.S. legislature. To quote a recent article, “Mr. Obama needs a foreign policy accomplishment more than ever.” Geopolitical change is pressuring negotiators. 

The time to move is now. TTIP stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic must act now or risk this ideal, yet precarious moment pass by.

Lucadamo is the lead policy analyst at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs.