The Vice President in Europe: Trade a Top Priority

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Vice President Joe Biden begins a European trip today with meetings and events set for Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.  The U.S. economic relationship with Europe is one of the issues at the top of the Vice President’s priority list, including likely discussions of an oft-discussed U.S.-European Union trade agreement. 

Michael Froman, the Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Affairs, previewed the meetings and noted that the Vice President will work to ascertain whether the European leaders are prepared to address some of the tougher issues that would come up in formal negotiations.

“We have been looking at these issues for the last several months, and I think the challenge is to make sure that the high-level political will that we see being expressed by European leaders about the importance and the potential value of this agreement is translated into a willingness to work through what has historically been difficult issues that have divided us.  Many of those are not just in the tariff area or market-access areas per se, but also in the regulatory and standards area.  And so I think what we are doing to the high-level working group is continuing to work through those issues to ensure that there is the will to address them.”

The five-day trip provides an opportunity for both sides to look at the issues being raised in a not-yet-released final report from the High-Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth.

“Because we have already such a deep relationship, the key issues ahead are some of the most difficult issues, like regulatory convergence and standards setting.  And while the Vice President is there, he is likely to have conversations with European leaders about the importance of there being political will to address these issues if we’re going to be able to pursue a deeper and broader trade and investment relationship.  So that is likely to be a key part of the discussions there, and we look forward to the high-level working group completing its work and being able to make a recommendation to leaders of both sides as to whether such negotiations make sense.”

Froman added that Europe is the United States’ “closest trading partner.”  (You can read the full transcript of the call with Froman, National Security Advisor to the Vice President Tony Blinken, and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes.)

One area that ITI hopes the Vice President will raise with European leaders is the need to conclude as quickly as possible the World Trade Organization (WTO ) discussions to expand the Information Technology Agreement (ITA).  The ITA is one of the most commercially successful trade agreements in the WTO.  It  has helped to drive innovation, accelerate productivity, increase employment, lower consumer prices, and bridge communities across the globe in ways unimagined 15 years ago when it was first adopted.

The ITA successes of the past 15 years pale in comparison to what a modernized ITA would mean for the U.S. and global economies.  A report by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation noted that, from 1996 to 2008, total global trade in information and communications technology (ICT) products increased more than 10 percent annually, from $1.2 trillion to $4.0 trillion.  An expanded ITA would cover additional two-way global trade to the tune of $800 billion annually and increase world GDP by $190 billion.

Importantly, negotiators aren’t creating a new agreement.  Rather, they are working to make a good agreement even better by adding products to the ITA list.

As ITI's John Neuffer noted earlier, talks in January at the WTO saw progress.  The core group of countries developing the product list for inclusion in the ITA has grown to 19, as Croatia and Israel have joined the United States, Japan, China, Malaysia, Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, the European Union, and a host of other developed and developing economies.  Talks will continue each month in Geneva through the spring.  

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