With a target to complete negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in 2016, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) hosted a Transatlantic Talk on June 14, 2016, with U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade Stefan Selig to discuss some of the overarching objectives and challenges of the negotiations process. The conversation began with a welcome and introduction by GMF Senior Fellow Sir Michael Leigh, and was moderated by France 24 White House Correspondent Philip Crowther.
— German Marshall Fund (@gmfus) June 14, 2016
As TTIP negotiations began almost three years ago, the conversation initially focused on the time-line for completion. Undersecretary Selig argued that the “time is now” to finish the agreement. He remarked on various factors impacting the progress and potential of the agreement, including the current leadership in the U.S. and the European Union, slow global growth, the refugee crisis, and ongoing questions of international security. Selig channeled U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent remarks on TTIP, reiterating that the United States is prepared to reach an ambitious agreement this year with its partner in the largest global commercial relationship. In times of global economic concerns, unemployment, energy price volatility, and the potential for a Brexit, among other developments, Selig offered that TTIP is an ambitious, achievable, and essential project for the transatlantic partnership.
When asked about a possible contingency plan should negotiations for TTIP not conclude this calendar year, particularly in light of the upcoming U.S. presidential election, Selig indicated there is “no legitimate Plan B.” For Selig, even if TTIP is not completed before the end of Obama’s final term in office, there does not appear to be the potential for the creation or completion of a less ambitious plan. Rather, the importance of TTIP as a high-standard and state-of-the-art deal in the face of the global uncertainties for both U.S. and EU governments cannot be understated.
Given vocal opposition to free trade agreements, one of the most important factors in the final stages of the process will be to “sell” TTIP to the publics in the U.S. and EU. In the U.S., Selig described active and continuous consultation with Congress. Selig noted trade is hard to sell because benefits are diffuse (goods are cheaper than they otherwise would be for consumers) and costs are concentrated (some people may lose their jobs as businesses adjust). He said the U.S. and E.U. need to acknowledge and address this issue through measures like support for job training. While both parties are invested in making TTIP work, and despite “lots of progress” throughout negotiations, much work still remains.
Selig underscored the time was of the essence to finalize TTIP, offering insights into the significance of the ambitious nature of the agreement, as well as the upcoming round of negotiations. He also indicated both parties want to finalize TTIP before the end of Obama’s term, offering an optimistic view of the negotiations process, as well as the positive impact a completed agreement would have on the interests of the transatlantic partners.
GMF’s Transatlantic Talks series pairs high-level government officials from one side of the Atlantic with a journalist or senior expert from the other side to discuss the issues most relevant to the transatlantic community. The wide-ranging series centers on foreign and security policy issues and questions immediately facing the transatlantic partnership. The on-the-record discussion format provides a platform for a moderated back-and-forth conversation between government officials, journalists, and the policy/think-tank community.