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 a day editor at Lib Dem Voice.