President Obama’s recent State of the Union address included a reference to a proposed new trade agreement with the European Union, but unlike other aspects of that speech it has drawn scant attention from the American press.
The president was talking about a trade agreement between the United States and the 27-nation European Union, and that is potentially a very big deal with important consequences, and it ought to be the subject of considerable public discussion. So far, however, nearly all the public discussion has been on the part of the Europeans.
Advocates of the trade proposal argue that if adopted it would trigger significant investments, innovation and increased international commerce because it would effectively merge the world’s two largest trading areas into a single market, and that means virtually all the tariffs that now exist among the participating nations would vanish.
That would instantly lower costs for companies on both sides of the Atlantic while also making them more competitive with China in the global marketplace. Economists predict the agreement could add a full percentage point to the economic output of the United States, and although that may seem insignificant, in fact it would represent important growth of the American economy.
According to reports in The Guardian, a prestigious British newspaper, business leaders in both the United States and Europe are “euphoric” over the prospects of the new agreement. The United States Chamber of Commerce, an organization seldom impressed with Obama’s policies, has predicted that with the new accord in place trade between America and Europe would grow by more than $120 billion within just five years.
“If we get this right, an agreement that opens markets and liberalizes trade would shore up our global competitiveness for the next century, creating jobs and generating hundreds of billions of dollars for our economies,” Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, recently remarked.
But some economists are saying that both sides ought to embrace a larger view, arguing that if adopted the proposed trade accord would bring important benefits that go beyond simple economics.
“We should keep an eye on the bigger picture, that liberal democracies should stick together despite the crisis that to some extent has undermined belief in liberal democracy,” European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht declared.
He was referring to the current unhappy economic situation that has been plaguing the European Union for years now. The proposed trade pact would be at least part of a remedy for a situation that has, in fact, worsened in recent weeks. The dire financial straits in countries such as Greece and Spain have served the interests of their ultra-nationalist political figures and cast a shadow over the whole idea of the European Union.
The proposed trade deal must be approached with care and take into account the fact the two sides may find they have deep differences on delicate issues such as food safety. In the past, the process of resolving those differences — even within the European Union — has tended to trigger deep resentments among its member nations, and negotiators for both sides of the proposed deal between the United States and Europe will have their hands full maintaining their focus on the overriding objective of unimpeded trade.
While it is true that trade agreements don’t always work out as well as their advocates predict — the North American Free Trade Agreement, for example, may have as many critics as supporters — there’s still the very real possibility, even perhaps probability, that the proposed agreement with our European friends will pay big economic dividends.