EU-US Trade Talks Southern European States Put on the Brakes

Germany wants the planned free-trade pact between the US and EU to be as broad as possible, but France and other Southern European nations want a number of issues affecting their farming industries to be excluded from the talks. Washington could run out of patience.

The US and EU flags at the European Council buidling in Brussels. How broad will a free-trade deal be?

The US and EU flags at the European Council buidling in Brussels. How broad will a free-trade deal be?

Germany is pushing for the broadest possible free-trade agreement between the European Union and the United States, against resistance from France and other Southern European nations which want to exempt issues like food regulation and gene technology from the talks in order to protect the interests of their farmers,

"We're aiming for a big breakthrough rather than a minimum consensus," said Economy Minister Philipp Rösler of the pro-business Free Democratic Party. "It would therefore be damaging to limit the agenda from the start and to exclude certain areas."

The German government is concerned that the US might in this case respond by demanding exemptions itself, which would end up producing only a modest agreement.

Berlin is trying to underscore its position with a study it commissioned from the Munich-based Ifo economic research institute which shows that the greater the reduction in trade barriers is, the bigger the economic advantages of a trans-Atlantic economic union.

If customs duties are abolished, GDP per capita in the EU and the US would only grow by 0.1 and 0.2 percent respectively, Ifo estimates.

The benefits would be greater if the governments also introduced common technical norms, safety standards and competition rules. In that case the standard of living would rise by more than 5 percent in the US, more than 6 percent in Europe and more than 8 percent in Germany in the coming two decades, Ifo predicts. Trans-Atlantic trade could more than treble.

Negotiations are due to start in June after President Barack Obama called for talks on a free trade agreement in his annual State of the Union speech last Tuesday.

Trans-Pacific Deal Seen as More Important

The sentence was included in the speech text at the last minute. The White House was at first hesitant to call for a free trade deal because of the euro crisis and because US government officials remembered the protracted wrangling over details likel poultry regulations in past negotiations.

Obama regards a trans-Pacific trade agreement as far more important. But the proposal was intended as a political signal to encourage Europeans to stay together in the euro crisis -- and to preserve the idea of a "common West" as the former publisher of German weekly Die Zeit, Theo Sommer, told a conference on trans-Atlantic trends at Harvard University last week.

"In 50 years there will be around 500 million Europeans and 500 million Americans -- and 8 to 9 billion people in other regions of the world."

Analysts say Washington wants a swift trade deal, before the 2014 congressional election if possible, and that its patience with European power-plays and prevarication will be limited. Many economists are predicting a robust recovery for the US, while austerity-hit Europe is at risk of years of recession.

If the Europeans hesitate too long, America may switch its focus towards Asia with even greater vigor.

SPIEGEL/Gregor Peter Schmitz


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1. Who is really Germany's most useful Friend in Europe ?
Nothing could demonstrate to Germany who should be their most trusted ally in Europe more than the issue of free trade. The only other large power in the EU committed to genuine free trade is the United Kingdom. France, and to a slightly lesser extent Italy, are intrinsically protectionist by nature. We are already seeing that France and Italy are finding it impossible to exist alongside the economic powerhouse of Germany within the single currency but Britain can, albeit with adjustments to the exchange rate to maintain competitiveness when efficiency lags behind. But when it comes to a free trade agreement with the USA, almost all Eurozone countries other than Germany must be very afraid : if they can't be competitive with Germany, how could they possibly compete with the US if the playing field was indeed made into a level one ? The idiots in Brussels and other European capitals continue to bury their head in the sand hoping that the Eurozone crisis will go away. It won't, because there is not the political will in Germany or anywhere else in the Eurozone to do everything that is really necessary to solve it.
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