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Breathing new life into the US-EU trade talks

While much of the trade focus in Washington will center on the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks taking place around the city, this week will be at least equally important for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The proposed agreement between the US and European Union would create the world’s largest free trade area—covering almost half of global GDP and two-thirds of foreign investment. Monday, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman met with his European counterpart Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström who is travelling to Washington for the first time in her new position overseeing international commerce for the EU.

Monday’s meeting is a key part of the larger effort to give the TTIP negotiations a “fresh start” after a challenging first year. As Ambassador Froman recently underlined, “we have an opportunity to work together for a fresh start to the negotiations. The United States is committed to moving forward with TTIP as soon as we can and as fast as we’re able.” But what does this “fresh start” actually entail, and what role should today’s meeting play?

{mosads}To answer these questions, we need to take a look at the broader political picture on both sides of the Atlantic. On the European side, a new European Parliament has been elected along with a new European Commission. New Commission President Juncker’s “Agenda for Jobs, Growth, Fairness and Democratic Change” outlines that completing an ambitious TTIP agreement is among Europe’s top economic and strategic priorities. Similarly, last month’s US mid-term elections have shifted the balance of power in both houses of Congress firmly towards the Republicans who are eager to demonstrate their ability to govern. Trade policy provides fertile ground for bipartisan cooperation: according to the incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), trade is one of the few issues where congressional leaders see room for cooperation with President Obama. Given the number of jobs that TTIP (and TPP) could create, Congress should work closely with the White House to move the trade agenda forward.

Of course, there is still the question of whether Congress will grant the President Trade Promotion Authority (TPA)—which would allow Congress up-or-down votes on both TPP and TTIP without amendments that could scupper both deals. However, considerable progress can be made even before the passage of TPA—and that is where Ambassador Froman and Commissioner Malmström’s “fresh start” comes in. 

For Commissioner Malmström, there is a need for more clarity, debate, and realism to more effectively communicate to citizens what is actually being negotiated, and how TTIP would help them. Other important goals of the fresh start include increasing civil society involvement in the negotiations and outlining ambitious and realistic goals for European access to the large US goods, services, and public procurement markets. After less than a month in office,  Malmström has already started publishing previously restricted TTIP documents and hosted numerous meetings with legislators and NGOs as part of a broad transparency initiative. This is an important effort as the public debate in Europe turns increasingly hostile towards globalization and international trade. 

Fostering an informed and enlightened public debate on TTIP is of paramount importance on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the main myths about the agreement is that it will primarily help large corporations, leaving the small ones on the sidelines. According to a recent Atlantic Council study, however, the exact opposite is the case: SMEs stand to gain exponentially from a transatlantic agreement that streamlines regulatory and customs processes. More than 99 percent of all businesses in both the United States and European Union are SMEs with less than 500 employees. These small companies account for the vast majority of employment and have contributed almost two-thirds of all net new private sector job creation in the United States over the past twenty years, adding more than 14.3 million new jobs to the US economy.

In her first official meeting before the European Parliament’s Trade Committee, Commissioner Malmström confirmed that she wants “[a] TTIP that works for small and medium enterprises.” Ambassador Froman agrees, calling small businesses “the backbone of economic growth, job creation, and a stronger middle class in communities across America.” 

During a time where the Internet and free movement of data are forceful drivers of economic growth, jobs, and welfare, SMEs have more opportunities than ever before to connect to potential customers across the world. To unlock the full potential of TTIP for businesses of all sizes, the US and EU need to work to establish a truly transatlantic digital marketplace with reliable, secure, and safe information flowing online as easily as goods and services do in planes or ships. As the world’s two largest economies, any transatlantic agreement on cross-border data flows should shape a future global agreement. 

Coming back to our initial question—how can today’s meeting give TTIP a fresh start? The second meeting of the lead negotiators from both sides of the Atlantic in less than a month’s time (they also met in Brussels in November) shows the deep commitment of both sides to give the negotiations new impetus. As the two sides prepare to reconvene in February, political leadership from Froman and Malmström is needed to develop a common transatlantic public relations strategy that promotes clarity of TTIP’s purpose and its benefits while encouraging an open and informed public debate on the true potential of building a more-integrated transatlantic market. 

Workman is associate director of the Atlantic Council’s Global Business and Economics Program where Kasperek is an intern.

Tags Michael Froman Mitch McConnell

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