What might reasonably be expected by the end of 2014 – that is to say, by the end of the mandate of the current European Commission – from the EU’s trade negotiations?
One African bloc and possibly more – the Commission hopes for three (with the South African Development Community, the Eastern African Community and the West Africa bloc) – will have concluded an ‘economic partnership agreement’ (EPA) with the EU. Perhaps Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych will have put pen to paper, bringing into provisional application a trade deal with a country of 46 million (more than the aggregate size of the African countries with EPAs). Just possibly – and this remains the public hope of the Commission – a transatlantic deal will be in the bag.
Depending on which of those negotiations comes to fruition, by the end of the year, the value of deals initialled, signed or on the cusp of completion could be colossal or marginal. Whatever the prospects for a TTIP deal this year, we will be far closer to knowing whether the EU will secure deals with two of its biggest trading partners – the US and Japan. Certainty that agreements are in the offing, and that they will be ambitious, would be a fillip for the financial markets in the short term and, more gradually, for the transatlantic economy.
But the year will also be important in non-financial ways.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, the eminent American geo-strategist, suggested last year that a “shared commitment” to securing a transatlantic deal could “shape a new balance between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceanic regions, while at the same time generating in the West new vitality, more security and greater cohesion”.
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The process of approval by the United States Congress of the trans-Pacific partnership (TPP) will serve as a dry run for the TTIP. Collectively, the TTIP and TPP talks will mark the current outer limits of developed countries’ willingness to liberalise trade. Although Canada and the EU accepted an investor-state dispute settlement (giving corporations the right to sue states for breach of an inter-governmental trade treaty), this idea is agitating Australian negotiators late in the TPP process, and may be too much for some EU member states to swallow in the TTIP. For the EU, the US and Japan, making concessions on agriculture will be difficult in the TTIP and TPP. Meanwhile at the WTO, their subsidies to their agricultural sectors will be questioned.
In Africa, the progress towards EPAs could have a critical bearing on whether the next European Commission opts instead for a new approach to increasing EU-African trade. Latin America will have provided more evidence of whether the continent as a whole is moving towards freer trade, or just its smaller Pacific half. In Asia, the fate of the TPP may provide European businesses with a sense of what they could hope to get from eventual deals with eastern Asia; so too should progress toward a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that the ten-country ASEAN group hopes to strike in 2015 with Asian and Australasian neighbours (Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand).
By the end of the year, then, it should be clearer whether the global momentum towards easing trade will be translated into successes everywhere. In Europe, the composition of the new European Parliament, the choice of the next presidents of the European Council and Commission, and the identity of the European commissioner for trade may provide an indication of how forcefully Europe will pursue a policy of liberalisation that the current leaders of the EU’s institutions argue is essential to Europe’s quest for economic growth and job creation.