Brussels and Washington have been buzzing this spring. The ambitions of the EU and the US mark the start of a new season for trade and investment, and the alliance’ position in the world. Soon the political momentum will shift towards the actual negotiations which are due to start after the summer. It will be a highly technical process. Now is the time to step down from the skyhigh ambitions, and to assess the hard work ahead, if we want to live up to the promise of transatlantic bloom.
The European Commission has sent its draft mandate for approval to the European Council, and the European Parliament has a political resolution in the making. Meanwhile the US Trade Representative has officially notified Congress of its intent to negotiate and conclude a comprehensive deal with its European partners.
Last week, a delegation from the European Parliament´s trade committee visited Washington. There is a strong, shared sense of ambition and commitment. Not only across the Atlantic, but also between democrats and republicans. This is unique in Washington these days.
While both the EU and the US expressed their desire to move forward quickly, or to finish the agreement ‘on one tank of gas’ as US Vice President Biden said, in practice the talks will be among the biggest challenges the transatlantic partners have jointly faced.
It is essential that TTIP becomes a partnership by and for people. A TTIP that is celebrated only by shareholders and by politicians, is not a success. The benefits of breaking down tariffs, non-tariff barriers, and the impact of common standards, rules and norms must be shared evenly. It should empower our youth, and facilitate the next generation in trade, such as through the digital economy. Benefits must trickle down to jobs.
Besides the challenges on a technical level, the differences between both political systems are cause for concern. Access to the American public procurement markets, both on state and federal level, is restricted or even closed for European businesses and SME’s. The US must open up its markets and treat the EU more evenhandedly. Our markets are open. But constitutionally, the federal government can not force states to do so. Similarly, restrictions on aviation and maritime transport hamper cross-border services. And the same goes for financial services. When it comes to regulators, the American ones are more independent, and as such may act as stakeholders. In the EU, regulators and standard bodies work within laws that politicians set directly and often for the EU’s internal market all at once.
Despite such a complex set of different systems, with a variety of stakeholders, we must not shy away from actively involving people. It is essential that the TTIP talks are conducted transparently. The negotiators should be open for input and must build trust in the process. We do not have time to lose.
This week China and Iceland signed a free trade agreement. It is the first time the Asian giant has entered into such a deal with a European country. Beijing has also been knocking on Brussels doors to revamp its direct trade and investment talks. India has lately stepped up its game to show the EU it is committed to becoming a preferential trading partner. Japan is eager to join the Washington-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Far from dead, as the Doha rounds stalemate suggests, global trade seems to be getting a make-over.
We live in a rapidly changing world, where emerging economies pose increasing competition for talent, innovation, and a seat at the table. It makes sense for the EU and the US to join forces and to break down the barriers that remain in their large volumes of trade and investment. It will hardly require government investment, and can render hundreds of billions worth of value.
But, as Tip O’Neil famously said: “All politics is local.” The challenge will be to make sure the global perspective translates to growth and jobs for people, whether they live in Ireland or Idaho, in Finland or Florida.
TTIP is a huge opportunity, which may well give people springfever. It can help create economic growth and jobs we need, while solidifying our competetive position globally. But there are many hurdles to be taken. Connecting the global perspectives to the local impact will be one such challenge. Yet, only when the impact is brought to the individual level, can we expect to get genuine and legitimate buy in.
Marietje Schaake is a Member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands representing the D66 Party, she is a Member ofthe Alliance for Democratic Liberals for Europe and serves on the Committees for Culture and Education and the US Delegation.