President Barack Obama indicated in his State of the Union address that the United States and the European Union would begin negotiations toward a free trade pact, a deal that is perfectly reasonable and logical.
In spite of its problems, the EU is a vibrant and growing economic and political organization of 27 nations, with the 28th, Croatia, to join this year. Any steps the United States can take to give its exports greater access to this market of half a trillion people, many of them well-to-do, is clearly to America's advantage. At the same time, to give European exporters greater access to U.S. markets should enhance competition and lower the costs of many products to consumers here, particularly when the recession is making Americans feel the pinch.
Two-way trade between the United States and EU countries in 2012 was reported by the federal government as $646 billion. It may have been as much as nearly $1 trillion.
The pact will be sold on both sides of the Atlantic by pointing out, correctly, that a closer-to-combined U.S.-EU market will strengthen the hand of both exporters and consumers in the face of competition from China, as well as helping the strained employment situations in Europe and America.
Some issues will need to be negotiated. Tariffs between the trade zones are already low, at an average 3 or 4 percent. What still must be addressed are barriers to trade in the form of specifications. Some are necessary, like those, for example, based on safety. Others are simply artificial hurdles put in place by domestic industries on both sides seeking to protect their markets from imports.
That means that lobbyists for those industries will go all out to continue to protect their markets, in the case of the United States using campaign contributions to members of Congress to work their will and block or modify the agreement based on their own narrow interests.
It will be hard to gauge in advance the impact of such an agreement on jobs, although claims will be made on both sides of the argument. Americans are still right to believe that in fair competition for markets, particularly with and in Europe, its products will be competitive, its producers will gain and employment of U.S. workers will grow.
A U.S.-EU free trade pact makes good sense for Americans, and Obama administration negotiators who have already begun work should pursue one quickly and actively.