Transatlantic trade deal is a US priority

Agreement must be comprehensive and address all barriers to US goods and services, says Max Baucus

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After almost four years of digging their way out of the global financial crisis, the US and the EU are eager to get their economies growing. Increased trade is crucial to a balanced plan for stimulating growth and job creation on both sides of the Atlantic.

A comprehensive transatlantic trade and investment deal would not only lower barriers but also raise the level of confidence in the US and EU – sparking significant growth in the world’s two largest economies.

This is a deal that must be done, it must be done now, and it must be done right. But in order to complete this pact, both sides are going to have to devote significant political focus to making tough choices in sensitive areas such as agriculture and domestic regulatory processes. Without addressing these vital issues, a deal will never happen.

For our part, the US government has an obligation to aggressively pursue every opportunity to expand trade, boost the economy and create well-paid jobs here at home. For that reason I went to Brussels in October to meet European leaders, including José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, and Karel De Gucht, EU trade commissioner, in an effort to jump-start negotiations.

On my trip, and in follow-up meetings, I heard that there is some interest on the European side in pursuing a limited agreement that would set aside tough issues in order to conclude a quick deal on the easier ones. That is a recipe for failure. Any bilateral trade and investment agreement must be comprehensive and address the full range of barriers to US goods and services if it is to receive broad, bipartisan congressional support.

The elimination of remaining tariffs will be an important piece of any final agreement. But Congress will not settle for an agreement that fails to address the areas likely to yield some of the most significant economic gains – in particular, the elimination of barriers to agricultural trade and ensuring that regulatory processes are streamlined and based on sound science.

As a senator from a large agricultural state, I understand the critical importance to the US, including the Montana farmers and ranchers I work for, of eliminating unfair barriers that keep our agricultural products out of the European market without any scientific justification – for example, blocking genetically modified crops and beef and pork containing feed additives that have been deemed to be safe. America’s ranchers and farmers produce the highest-quality products in the world. As chairman of the committee overseeing US trade, I will support a deal only if it gives America’s producers the opportunity to compete in the world’s biggest market.

To complete an agreement of this magnitude will require strong and sustained political leadership. An essential piece of the puzzle will be the selection of the US trade representative to succeed Ron Kirk. The representative’s office is lean and effective, and has a record of getting the job done. It needs an experienced leader with proved mastery of the details of trade negotiations, one who is ready to put in the miles to meet counterparts abroad and who is ready to empower staff.

No one should underestimate the challenges that lie ahead in this negotiation. But I believe there is a strong chance that we can reach the sort of agreement that is needed by both sides, and send a signal to the rest of the world. After years of stalled trade negotiations, the US and EU must seize this chance to demonstrate leadership by showing that we can make the tough choices to boost the world economy.

This agreement – now formally known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – would be the biggest trade deal since the World Trade Organisation was founded nearly 20 years ago. It would be of such great value to both economies that it must be treated as a top priority for the US administration and Congress. It will certainly be one of the Senate finance committee’s. In the coming days we will be meeting to discuss how we can work together to accelerate the trade negotiations. There is widespread agreement that the potential benefits – including support for millions of American jobs – are simply too big to be left on the table. The support is there. It is time to act.

The writer, a Democrat, is chairman of the US Senate finance committee

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