Obama Must Trade On His Political Approval To Boost US-EU Pact
In his State of the Union speech, President Obama announced his intention to begin talks on a comprehensive trade deal with the European Union as a means to boost the American economy. The Obama administration, which took little action in the first term to expand free trade agreements, faces headwinds from both the public and members of Congress.
The EU already has granted approval to move forward with forming a stronger union with the US on trade.
Trade Expansion Faces Public Opposition
An online poll conducted of 35,000 Americans conducted by Civic Science found a mere 41 45 percent of respondents believe the nation has benefited from supporting free trade, while 44 percent believe trade has not been an economic benefit. While public skepticism toward expanding trade pacts may be an inconvenient truth, it is the opposition within the halls of Congress which could pose the real challenge to securing progress on trade agreements with the European Union and Asia.
Even Free Trade Advocates Have Qualms About US-EU Deal
Sens. Max Baucus (D-Montana) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) – both members of the Senate Finance Committee and proponents of free trade – wrote a letter to US Trade Representative Ron Kirk expressing their concern that protectionist policies within the EU could have a negative impact on agriculture interests in the US.
“While there is much promise in the relationship, there are remaining barriers to free and fair trade that are long-standing and difficult. While not a complete list, we have outlined below several elements that a successful negotiation must address,” the senators stated.
Their concerns pertain to restrictions on “genetically engineered crops, a ban on the use of hormones in cattle, restrictions on pathogen reduction treatments in poultry, pork and beef, unscientific restrictions on the use of safe feed additives such as ractopamine in beef and pork, and other barriers to trade affecting a significant portion of U.S. agricultural exports.”
US Focus Has Been On Enforcement, Not Expansion
As the Cato Institute’s Daniel Ikenson notes the Obama administration has concluded zero new trade agreements, while shifting its focus to launching complaints with the World Trade Organization. The administration has “initiated 12 WTO complaints against U.S. trade partners. Moreover, some of USTR’s resources have been diverted to the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center (ITEC)—President Obama’s big trade initiative unveiled at last year’s SOTU.”
United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk has already announced his decision to step down from his post, but no replacement has been made.