Transatlantic trade deal would be boon to all

A US and EU free trade accord could help get both economies out of the mire

European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht

European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht


International trade deals are the building blocks of dynamic economies and we desperately need more of them to match the ambition of Irish and British firms. An historic EU-US trade deal would be a surefire way of opening up new opportunities for our growing businesses, delivering growth and prosperity to our citizens without additional public expenditure.

A major new study* has projected that EU exports to the US would increase by 28 per cent, or €187 billion, each year as a result of a new EU-US free trade agreement.

An agreement between the two economic blocs would also increase global trade. This would produce an additional 6 per cent growth in exports for the EU, bringing the benefit to the EU to €220 billion per year. EU exports would grow in almost all sectors, from processed foods to chemicals and manufactured goods.

It is a prize that can’t be ignored, not least because of the current difficulty in generating sustainable and robust growth levels.

The EU and US have announced they hope to start negotiations on a transatlantic trade and investment deal this summer. Talks in Dublin today between European trade ministers and EU and US business leaders will be crucial. If the negotiations ultimately succeed, they will constitute the largest and most important bilateral trade deal ever negotiated.

The possible implications for both Britain and Ireland are clear. With a deep and long-standing investment and trade relationship with the US, businesses are likely to benefit hugely from lower costs, increased opportunities and ease of investment, a reduced regulatory burden and public procurement opportunities.

Uncompetitive tariffs
Ahead of formal talks, trade ministers need to keep two vital targets in mind. First, they need to get rid of any remaining uncompetitive tariffs on our industrial goods destined for US shores.

Many products made in Ireland or Britain heading for the US face costly import duties, with the same situation for US firms hoping to sell here. From automotive firms to our pharmaceutical and chemical industries, millions of euro and dollars are shelled out to customs authorities each year, hurting consumers. This could be far better spent on much-needed investment.

Second, ministers need to look at opening up transatlantic trade by reducing the burden of regulation between the EU and US, especially in the service economy.

Such a move would, for example, help the logistics companies that deliver goods, the airlines that transport business people to sign on the dotted line, and the telecoms and broadband companies that bring businesses and consumers together faster than ever before. Crucially it would create a more level playing field whether your business is in Cork or Chicago, Liverpool or Los Angeles.

Jumping through hoops
Despite possessing the world’s most advanced regulatory regimes, EU and US businesses still have to jump through unnecessary hoops on both sides of the Atlantic, costing firms time and money. From duplicate tests, to compliance assessments and inspections, some businesses are hamstrung before they even start. This is especially true for smaller firms looking to sell overseas.

For example, a logistics company, when trading in the EU, must handle 27 different customs processes and costs, while pharmaceutical firms believe major cost savings are possible if the labelling requirements in both markets were the same. The money saved could be ploughed back into the Irish and British economies, creating new jobs.

Over the last 20 years, a large part of the EU single market’s success has been its ability to break down cross-border regulation barriers in Europe. We must use the EU as a launch pad to break down those remaining barriers to trade with the US and beyond, to Japan, India and elsewhere.

Negotiations aren’t going to be easy, but it is in everybody’s interests to get a major trade deal agreed. With a combined population of 800 million people, almost half the world’s gross domestic product and a third of world trade, for the US and EU the rewards will be well worth the hard graft.

* Reducing Transatlantic Barriers to Trade and Investment: an Economic Assessment (Centre for Economic Policy Research)

Danny McCoy is chief executive of the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation. John Cridland is director-general of the Confederation of British Industry

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