Agriculture and business support for a transatlantic free trade agreement between the United States and the European Union may be gaining momentum, but comments from U.S. and EU officials suggest that these interests may have to settle for something less ambitious, according to various published reports.  A U.S.-European Union working group is due to deliver by the end of June a preliminary report on ways to increase bilateral trade and investment. The joint High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth established in late 2011 was charged with conducting a comprehensive review of existing trade barriers and making recommendations on policies to reduce or remove them.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a London speech last month that U.S. and EU negotiators “are working together to examine a wide range of possibilities, including eliminating conventional barriers to trade in goods, such as tariffs and tariff-rate quotas; reducing barriers to trade in services and to transatlantic investment; promoting regulatory approaches that facilitate trade; reducing, eliminating or preventing, in the first place, behind-the-border barriers to trade in all categories; and developing rules and principles on other global issues that are of common concern.”

EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht favors negotiating a wide-ranging deal. In addition to paving the way for greater trade efficiencies, he opined, such an agreement would be “a bold move” that could help restore confidence in “governments” ability to make tough but necessary decisions” that will “deliver recovery.” It would also position the United States and the European Union to be more competitive with emerging economies such as China, India, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, and South Africa.

The Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue has supported a comprehensive U.S.-EU trade deal, calling it a “Transatlantic Partnership” in an apparent effort to draw a parallel with the Trans-Pacific Partnership the United States is currently negotiating with an eye toward the eventual creation of a free trade agreement comprising dozens of countries in the Americas and Asia.

Ambassador Kirk said that “acute domestic sensitivities or statutory limitations” could prove too high a hurdle and prompt the working group to determine that “the most ambitious outcomes are not likely to be achieved through full-fledged trade negotiations.” In that case, “the United States will be ready to explore how the United States and the European Union could reach agreements in areas where we have shared ambitions,”  he concluded.