Transatlantic Agreement on the Horizon?


Panelists from US, EU and Germany discuss expectations and obstacles

The office of RGIT hosted a panel discussion on the EU-US High Level Working Group on September 18th. The timing of the discussion– following the release of the interim report, after the summer break and before the election – allowed panelists to reflect on progress and exchange views on the upcoming final report.

The conversation began with introductory remarks from each panelist. Clear from all sides was that it’s an opportune time to engage more deeply on the possibilities of an EU-US Free Trade Agreement. The panelists agreed that the space created by the dormant Doha Development Agenda created a more fertile environment for the transatlantic trade discussion. Following the launch of the Working Group, Peter Beyer, member of the German Bundestag, mentioned that European policymakers were expecting additional political signals from the US administration. Sean Heather from the US Chamber of Commerce noted that in addition to the G-20 joint statement, President Obama made mention of transatlantic trade during his press conference. All of the panelists referred to the possibility of a comprehensive agreement.

The discussion then focused on future expectations. German business representatives found that some language in the interim report intimates a tentative approach. This point was addressed by David Weiner from the office of the USTR, and should be interpreted to mean that there is still work that needs to be done before any possible official negotiation could begin. He noted that there are planned future consultations with Congress on what a possible negotiation process would mean for the US. In light of some panelists who presume the current exercise is a pre-negotiation, Weiner clarified the process stating that the US and EU were engaged in an exercise that would result in either a proposal for such an agreement or not, and if successful it would then be up to the leaders to pursue it. Peter Beyer, Member of the German Parliament, stated that political will is on the table, and was optimistic about keeping momentum should there be an opportunity to move forward.

Hiddo Houben of the European delegation underscored the importance of an agreement that would serve the multi-lateral system over the long term. He called for both sides to be reflective on this point, to think about how a future agreement would fit into current WTO framework. He referred to a 21st century agreement that must go beyond our mutual trade agreements with South Korea, and used the TPP as an example of such an agreement. He proposed that any official negotiations focus on convergence of standards rather than equivalence. In order for third country producers to produce for both markets regulatory convergence is necessary. Finally, Houben noted the areas of SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary standards) and agriculture should be negotiated on realistic terms, and suggested an interest in possibly including the air transport sector.

The private sector panelists called for more exchange with the government panelists. Sean Heather from the US Chamber of Commerce noted that companies need to begin paying attention to the ongoing work of the Working Group as the foundation for future official negotiations could be underway. He also stressed the US Chamber’s interest in including the financial services sector to a future negotiation, and added that state level government procurement issues are also important. Sara Borella of the German Chamber Organization DIHK signaled an interest in seeing the Working Group examine alternatives to the comprehensive approach. She indicated that some SMEs are concerned about administrative hurdles that an FTA could pose. Stefan Mair from the Federation of German Industries (BDI) indicated that strategically the US and EU are still in a position to shape world markets and set benchmarks. He called for clarity from government so that businesses may know better where to effectively place their resources.

The panel, moderated by Dr. Bettina Wurster of RGIT, included:

  • Peter Beyer, Member of the German Parliament (CDU), Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee
  • Dr. Stefan Mair, BDI, Member of the Executive Board
  • Dr. Sara Borella, DIHK, Director International Trade Policy, Brussels
  • David Weiner, USTR, Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Europe
  • Hiddo Houben, EU Delegation in Washington, DC, Minister-Counselor, Head of Trade Section
  • Sean Heather, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Vice President of the Center for Global Regulatory Cooperation


The RGIT Statement on the HLWG interim report as well as a discussion paper by the CDU/CSU parliamentary group can be downloaded below.