WASHINGTON — Two prominent U.S. senators delved into the debate over a U.S.-European Union free-trade agreement on Tuesday, outlining their priorities for a potential trans-Atlantic deal that is under consideration.
Sens. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), ranking member of the panel, said in a letter to President Obama that a U.S.-EU trade accord is an “enticing opportunity” but also one with many challenges.
Outgoing U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht are heading a group that has been tasked with exploring ways to advance U.S.-EU trade and investment. It was established during the November 2011 U.S.-EU summit and is expected to release recommendations.
European leaders have been more vocal about pushing for a trade agreement than their U.S. counterparts.
The trading relationship is already significant. The U.S. exported $329 billion worth of goods to Europe in 2012 and imported $454 billion, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.
“A comprehensive U.S.-EU FTA, negotiated and implemented with the highest standards, would have a multiplier effect and would be certain to generate much-needed economic growth on both sides of the Atlantic,” the two senators said in their letter. “While there is much promise in the U.S.-European Union relationship, there are remaining barriers to free and fair trade that are long-standing and difficult to overcome.”
The senators identified several trade issues they want addressed in any negotiation, including strong intellectual property protection, access for U.S. service exports, a mechanism for dispute settlement, regulatory compliance and improved access for U.S. agricultural exports such as beef and pork.
They said a trade accord could serve to “reinvigorate the global trade agenda, setting the standard for all FTAs to follow. While there are numerous challenges to be addressed, it is our hope that the framework we have outlined…provides useful guidance as you negotiate a path forward.”
Baucus and Hatch also told Obama they plan to “intensify” efforts to renew presidential trade promotion authority, which expired in 2007. With TPA, Congress does not have the ability to amend trade pacts negotiated by the executive branch and can only vote up or down on them. TPA also gives leverage to the U.S. and assurances to its trading partners that a pact will not be changed by Congress.