If truth is the first casualty of war, trust can be the first casualty of negotiations, where mistrust exists that remains unresolved. This week discussions on a free trade agreement between the European Union and the US opened on a discordant note. The talks were overshadowed and the atmosphere soured by claims from whistleblower Edward Snowden that the American government had bugged EU offices in the US. Nevertheless, while the EU awaits a full explanation of the spying allegations, the trade negotiations have continued. And a target date, November 2014, has been set for their completion.
If agreement on trade can be reached, the world’s biggest free-trade deal would provide a major boost to economic growth in the EU and the US at a critical time. Much of the developed word is experiencing slow growth while the eurozone remains stuck in recession. The EU and the US together account for almost half the world’s economic output. A comprehensive trade accord could benefit both equally, raising annual EU output by close to one per cent of GDP, and helping to create some two million jobs.
Ireland, in its recent presidency of the EU, helped to agree a mandate for European neogotiators for the trade talks. Few countries have a greater economic interest in the success of these negotiations than Ireland does, given its huge reliance for growth on continued foreign direct investment from the US. Since 2008, and the onset of the financial crisis, American investment in Ireland has increased by 25 per cent – helping to lessen the impact of the economic downturn.
The trade talks will focus on both lowering tariff rates – already low – and removing non-tariff barriers that impede free trade. The prize of a landmark trade deal involving the EU and US is well worth winning, as President Obama has recognised. For Europe and America, the likely benefits a new trade accord confers give both sets of negotiators the biggest incentive to reach agreement, and to do so quickly.