The Hill
March 04, 2013

Baucus makes US-EU trade deal a top priority

A top Senate Democrat is arguing that a trade deal forged between the United States and European Union would spur significant economic growth and must be made a top priority for the White House and the Congress. 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), whose panel oversees trade, said a free-trade agreement would not only lower barriers but also raise the level of confidence in the United States and the EU — sparking significant growth in the world’s two largest economies," he wrote in an op-ed in the Financial Times on Monday. 

"This is a deal that must be done, it must be done now, and it must be done right," he wrote. 

"But in order to complete this pact, both sides are going to have to devote significant political focus to making tough choices in sensitive areas such as agriculture and domestic regulatory processes. Without addressing these vital issues, a deal will never happen."

Baucus pushed back on the idea that negotiators sign off on the issues that can be easily rectified and work on the tough issues on a separate track. 

"That is a recipe for failure," Baucus wrote. 

"Any bilateral trade and investment agreement must be comprehensive and address the full range of barriers to U.S. goods and services if it is to receive broad, bipartisan congressional support."

He vowed to make a US-EU trade deal a top priority for his panel, which has plans in the near future to discuss how to accelerate the trade negotiations. 

"There is widespread agreement that the potential benefits, including support for millions of American jobs, are simply too big to be left on the table," he wrote.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama announced that trade talks would finally be launched. Negotiations are expected to start in June on the agreement that would create a $5 trillion free-trade zone. 

A few months ago, Baucus met with José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, and Karel De Gucht, EU trade commissioner, in Brussels to boost talks along. 

While eliminating remaining tariffs will be a focus, there is an understanding that Congress will not approve a deal that "fails to address the areas likely to yield some of the most significant economic gains" such as streamlining regulations and dropping agricultural barriers. 

For example, while there has been some broader acceptance of genetically modified crops, Europeans have been largely opposed to allowing those exports from the United States. 

There also is opposition in Europe to some feed additives used in beef and pork, which Baucus argues has been scientifically proven as safe and should be allowed.

"No one should underestimate the challenges that lie ahead in this negotiation," he said. 

"But I believe there is a strong chance that we can reach the sort of agreement that is needed by both sides, and send a signal to the rest of the world."

He also called on the White House to nominate the next U.S. trade representative to replace Ron Kirk, who left the administration after one term with Obama. 

The leading candidate is Jeff Zients, who has been heading up the White House's budget office. 

"To complete an agreement of this magnitude will require strong and sustained political leadership," Baucus said. 

"An essential piece of the puzzle will be the selection of the U.S. trade representative to succeed Ron Kirk."

View article here.