U.S.-EU Free Trade Agreement: Global Game-Changer?

At a broad and macro level, a study by the EU Commission found that eliminating or harmonizing half of all remaining tariffs and non-tariff barriers on bilateral trade could add up to 1.5 percentage points to growth over the medium term on both sides of the ocean. The European Center for International Political Economy, meanwhile, estimates that a deal could boost U.S. exports to the EU by 17% and EU exports to the U.S. by 18% over time. The figures are not overly large, but given how large the U.S.-EU economies are today -- combined, the U.S. and EU account for over half of world GDP -- even a small percentage increase in trade or investment translates into a large increase in aggregate output.

In addition, given that both parties are hobbled by massive debt obligations and chronic deficits, any growth strategy should have a net positive effect on the transatlantic economy.

A free-trade and investment deal would help create jobs and income on both sides of the pond, and spur more cross-border trade and investment in goods and services. The more far-reaching the agreement, the greater the impact on key sectors of the transatlantic economy, notably in services where there is plenty of scope for further integration.

A U.S.-EU free-trade agreement would do more than trigger economic activity. It would help reinvigorate a critical bilateral relationship that has been badly frayed and fractured over the past decade. Indeed, the last ten years have been among the rockiest in decades for the transatlantic partnership. Transatlantic solidarity and cohesion have been undermined by the increasing frequency of economic recessions on both sides of the ocean. The U.S. dotcom bust and ensuing transatlantic recession in 2001, the U.S.-led financial crisis-cum-recession in 2008, and Europe’s sovereign debt crisis of 2010: all of these economic shocks have taken a toll on U.S.-EU economic relations and have eroded bilateral trust and cooperation.

Add in Europe’s sovereign debt crisis juxtaposed against robust economic growth emanating from China, India, and the developing nations, and there is little wonder that many in Washington now believe Europe is increasingly irrelevant on the global stage. The rapidly aging, heavily indebted, and increasingly fragmented continent is viewed as more of a withering partner of the United States than as an engaging, forward-looking, and dynamic ally. Hence the strategic “pivot” towards Asia.

But enter the prospects for a free-trade and investment agreement. Such a deal -- if comprehensive and far-reaching -- could be just the spark that regalvanizes a bilateral partnership responsible for constructing and maintaining the global economic order of the post-war era. A free-trade agreement could halt the divergence of interests between the U.S. and Europe, and instead spawn a new dawn of cooperation and convergence between the world’s two largest economies.