Lib Dems should lead the European push for a US trade deal

President Obama’s public statement in favour of a US-EU trade agreement should be welcomed by all liberals. Free trade is a cause with a long and proud liberal history, and such a deal has the potential to increase prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic.

There will be some countries in the EU less keen on such a deal than others: our French neighbours being the most obvious example. Many countries in the EU have a vested interest in not creating a truly free market within the EU, never mind across the pond. Agriculture has long been a major impediment to the free trade in goods – now largely otherwise complete – in the EU, with protection of the common agricultural policy seemingly the main foreign policy objective of some member states. One doesn’t have to go far back in history to see this in action.

And agriculture is a major stumbling block in the US too, with state aid propping up one of the biggest agricultural industries in the world, with all the attendant vested interests that brings in the American political system. Farmers are well represented in Congress.

But agriculture is too important to ignore, and there seems to be a recognition on both sides that any meaningful deal must include it.

With all the various conflicting interests involved with negotiations on this level, it will be far from easy making an agreement reality. But if those who believe in free trade in principle and want to see its benefits realised in practice keep up the pressure, now seems to be the best opportunity we have had for some time to make some progress. At times like this we simply cannot afford protectionist attitudes: the time for a deal has arrived, and the Liberal Democrats should do what they can to make it happen.

* Nick Thornsby is Thursday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs here.

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  • Alex Macfie 14th Feb '13 - 1:03pm

    One caveat: we must be on our guard against policy laundering in this and other trade deals. For instance, after the overwhelming rejection of ACTA in the European Parliament, there will undoubtedly be attempts to insert ACTA-like intellectual property provisions into TAFTA. The US Trade Representative is essentially in the pocket of the big rightsholder interests, and the European Commission is not much better. It is difficult to see what place intellectual property law has in a trade agreement anyway, and the extreme provisions that will undoubtedly appear in drafts would be the opposite of free trade. It is easy enough to reject a treaty where the primary objective is IP-protectionism, but when it is just a part of a wider trade agreement, we must be prepared to do the same. As with ACTA, the EU Parliament will only be able to vote “yes” or “no”. So our MEPs must be willing to withhold consent for this (and other trade agreements such as CETA) if the final deal does not actually promote free trade. It would not do so if, for example, the “free trade” agreement prevented EU governments from passing laws that allowed consumers to modify DVD players to play Region 1 disks.

  • Foregone Conclusion 14th Feb '13 - 3:43pm

    Not going to happen, unless the US govt. accepts the standard terms of all new EU trade agreements, which include accepting the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Which is not going to happen.

  • Of course from the European point of view it would be good if the trade deal doesn’t include IP protection because we have lost our ability to support innovation and innovative people (see the bizarre London Olympics opening ceremony celebrating creative Britons who at their first chance had decamped to the rival bidding city, New York, or close by). We do have a history of innovation however and no doubt we will be arguing that the Americans should adopt mark of origin protection rules to stop them producing knock-offs of Champagne and Budweiser.

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