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European Commission

Karel De Gucht

European Trade Commissioner

Speech on EU-US Trade Relations

European Liberal Democrats Congress/Dublin

9 November 2012

Ladies and gentlemen,

They say that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.

In that case, the American election campaign does not bode well for transatlantic relations.

Europe has hardly featured throughout the campaign. Europe was hardly mentioned in the Presidential debates, and if it has featured at all, it was primarily as a point of concern or frustration. Europe, many Americans seem to think, Democrats and Republicans alike, is above all the place that can't get its economic act together. Both their hopes and their fears go out towards other parts of the world, or so it seems. It is not a coincidence that re-elected President Obama is called a "pacific" President.

And yet, in economic terms, the transatlantic relationship is still by far the most important relationship in the world. And businesses, consumers and at least some of the politicians on both sides of the Atlantic know it is.

Once the new President will be sworn into office, and as the euro-crisis is under control, we need to get back together and work out how we can lift each other's hopes and assuage each other's fears.

There is now, for the first time in years, a serious drive towards an EU-US Free Trade Agreement. We have been doing the preparatory work. We know what is at stake and what we can do about it. Now it is time to act.

Let me stress once again why we need to reinvigorate and refurbish this relationship.

There is no doubt about the current strength and importance of the transatlantic economic relationship which accounts for about half of the world's GDP and almost a third of global trade flows. Almost 2 billion euros of goods and services are traded every day between the European Union and the US. Investment stocks are at over 2 trillion euros.

And yet, we cannot take this partnership for granted.

The macroeconomic situation puts pressure on both of us. The US seems to have recovered more strongly than Europe, after the crisis (which is one of the reasons why public opinion in America regards us with indifference and some with exasperation), but on both sides of the Atlantic growth remains more modest than we need. We both face considerable uncertainty, which is holding back companies from taking risks, laying out plans and invest in new products, new services and create jobs. Comprehensive trade liberalisation across the Atlantic would help us put our recovery on an even sounder footing.

It would drive down the cost of transatlantic business. Tariffs are low between Europe and the United States but the volume of our trade is so big that their elimination would be helpful - particularly when one considers that so many of the traded goods are part of long value chains. Car parts often cross the Atlantic more than once – as components and again in the finished product – meaning they may pay duties twice.

But most importantly, effective regulatory cooperation would further reduce costs because companies would not have to comply with different requirements that have the same public policy objectives.

At a broader level, the intensified competition that a transatlantic agreement would create could improve the competitiveness of firms across the whole economy. Long-term evidence in Europe indicates that a 1% increase in openness of the economy results in an increase of 0.6% in labour productivity the following year.

In the short term, I believe the conclusion of an ambitious agreement would also address another aspect of our current economic difficulties. At the heart of today's problems is a crisis of confidence in governments' ability to make tough but necessary decisions. A new transatlantic trade initiative would be a bold move that would show that politics works in Europe and the United States. That both sides are willing to take the action necessary to deliver recovery.

There is another reason why we shouldn't take the transatlantic partnership for granted: globalisation and the rise of emerging economies.

The so-called BRICs - China, India, Russia, Brazil - already account for 17% of world GDP. Other economies like Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa are also becoming more important players. That is why developing economies are the new drivers of global trade: between 2000 and 2009 their exports rose by 80% compared to 40% for the world as a whole. As a result, the relative weight of the EU-US commercial relationship is being diluted.

Granted, for investment the gap is still dramatic. European investment stocks in China amount to only 6% of our investments in the US. The US has invested more in Ireland since the year 2000 than it has in all the BRIC countries combined. But if we look at just trade we start to see a different picture. Transatlantic trade was four times as large as EU-China trade in 2001. Last year the difference was just 3%.

If we want to make the most of the global economy, we have to grasp the opportunities still on offer by strengthening the ties between the US and the EU.

For others are surely making the most of their opportunities!

Now what does that mean in practice, strengthening the transatlantic ties?

At the November 2011 Summit meeting, US and EU leaders have established a High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth, precisely with an aim to identify ways to increase trade and investment between our economies. Together with the US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, I have the honour to chair this group.

Early this summer, we adopted an interim report, coming to the conclusion that a comprehensive agreement would provide the most significant benefit of the various options considered, one that addresses a broad range of bilateral trade and investment issues.

Although no political decision has yet been reached to launch negotiations, the process has clearly moved in that direction.

We are now working hard with our US colleagues, drafting the requested final report before the end of the year, after which I hope we can launch talks on an FTA as soon as possible.

Let me give you an overview of what I think should be in such a comprehensive, package deal:

First, tariff elimination. An effective agreement would get as close as possible to the removal of all duties on transatlantic trade in industrial and agricultural goods.

Second, services liberalisation. An effective agreement would open services markets that are currently closed and put in place a framework for better cooperation between regulators. It would go beyond what each of us has already done in other trade agreements. It would address some of the barriers to international competition, including those that still exist at the sub-federal level on both sides of the Atlantic.

Third, public procurement – a market of crucial importance for Europe. An effective agreement cannot ignore the fact that companies whose business depends on procurement represent 25% of European GDP and 31 million jobs. The goal should be to get as close as possible to national treatment at all levels of government.

Fourth, regulatory cooperation. An effective agreement would include a mechanism for addressing our regulatory differences on both food and non-food products. Being realistic, no agreement can be a panacea that resolves all existing regulatory issues overnight. But an ambitious deal would lay down tough procedures to help us avoid unnecessary problems in the future and so reduce unnecessary costs for companies.

Finally, an effective agreement would also establish state of the art rules in key areas like competition, trade facilitation, labour, the environment and intellectual property.

All this will not be easy. There is no low-hanging fruit in such a relationship. There are no quick fixes for the complex issues that still hamper trade between the most developed economic blocs in the world.

And it will not be easy for Europe to engage fully in such negotiations either.

As is often the case in trade policy: everyone seems to be in favour in general, but opposed to many of the specifics of such a deal. Access to our agriculture markets will obviously be one of the bones of contention. In return, some of our offensive interests, for instance in public procurement, will guarantee hard talks before we can reach any comprehensive compromise.

But getting rid of NTBs also implies we take a long, hard look at some of the standards and regulations we in Europe are using, and a willingness to adapt some of them where possible and necessary. You only have to look at the case of lactic acid, the decontaminating fluid used in the United States to clean beef and veal carcasses but which has long been contested in Europe, to realise how sensitive some of the issues on the negotiating table really are.

I believe we, as liberal-democrats, should be the staunchest supporters of FTA-negotiations between America and Europe.

Not just for the immediate economic benefits that could result from it.

Not just for the faith we all share that open markets are essential for an open society.

But because we should keep an eye on the bigger picture as well, that liberal-democracies should stick together despite the crisis that to some extent has undermined belief in liberal-democracy.

I believe we should convince people in Europe that a deepening of trade relations with the US is to our benefit, despite the sacrifices any compromise entails.

And I also believe we can convince the US that Europe is still the most interesting and most reliable partner to do business with. As Churchill said, 'you can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they've tried everything else'.

Thank you very much.


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