The issue: Both U.S., EU leaders face a difficult sales job in home countries
The best thing to come out of the Group of Eight economic summit in Northern Ireland may be the start of negotiations eventually leading to a United States-European Union free trade pact, creating a bloc covering half the world’s economy.
THE SUMMIT’S HOST, British Prime Minister David Cameron, grandly called it “the biggest bilateral trade deal in history.” It certainly will be — if and when it comes off.
Cameron — joined by President Barack Obama and the European commission’s president, Jose Manuel Barroso, for the summit’s start in mid-June — was almost giddy in describing the pact’s benefits. These include 2 million new jobs created on both sides of the Atlantic and a payoff in trade growth of almost $157 billion for the EU, $125 billion for the United States and $133 billion for the rest of the world, the Financial Times reports.
The talks are to begin in Washington this month. Negotiators hope to conclude them by the end of 2014, a deadline that is surely optimistic.
According to Obama, the key to the deal — and the key to selling it to Congress — is that it be “comprehensive.” The number of exceptions, or “carve-outs” in trade lingo, must be kept to a minimum.
HOWEVER, THE FIRST sign of trouble surfaced on the eve of the summit, when France indicated it would insist on a carve-out to keep its audio-visual industry from being drowned by imports of U.S. movies and music.
The United States is eager to see the pact succeed, and not just because of its economic benefits. It also would reassure Europeans that the U.S. is not radically pivoting to Asia — a move that has slowed with each new revelation that, although China is an economic colossus, it is a sloppy, poorly regulated and occasionally not a very trustworthy one.
The EU pact envisions eliminating all tariff barriers and winding down environmental, health and privacy barriers to trade.
Although the U.S. is not making a big deal of it, one of its goals is to convince the Europeans to drop their resistance to genetically modified crops and meats. That would be a boon to U.S. agriculture.
WHICHEVER administration must sell this package — it may not be concluded by the time Obama leaves office — will face difficulties because of myriad parochial interests. But Congress’ history in these matters is to go along after a suitable period of grumbling.
EU negotiators face a more difficult sales job, because the union consists of 27 nations — soon to be 28, with Croatia’s addition. But ratification of a trade treaty would conclude a process that began in the immediate aftermath of World War II, a great accomplishment by any measure.