Estimates suggest that the centrepiece of ongoing talks (3-6 December) in the World Trade Organization – an agreement on trade facilitation – could boost global trade by €50 billion a year. This is dwarfed by the projected benefits of a transatlantic trade deal for the EU (€119bn) and the US (€95bn).
The next round of transatlantic talks, to be held on 16-20 December in Washington, DC, amount to a last screening round before both sides put forward specific offers. One of the main decisions after this round will be whether to exclude regulation of financial services. Proponents of inclusion, such as Karel Lannoo of the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels, argue that “inclusion of financial services could...be an opportunity to strengthen prudential rules and consumer protection provisions on both sides”. The current official position is that an agreement would be restricted to opening up each other's financial markets.
Talks on energy are proving sensitive. The US has yet to indicate a willingness to give Europe access to a new source of energy in the US, shale gas, while the US has expressed concern at the way the EU's fuel-quality directive is being revised to restrict trade in especially dirty fuels.
The issue shaping up to be most contentious with the public, however, is investment protection, with European critics arguing that the talks could result in US corporations undermining national regulations and national sovereignty. The EU gained the power to negotiate on investment rules for all member states in 2009.
Karel De Gucht, the European commissioner for trade, told the European Parliament on 27 November that existing bilateral rules needed to be improved “to ensure that investment protection is not abused to defeat legitimate public policy objectives of governments”. He also said that the Commission wanted to make the system more transparent.