TheUnited States-European Union High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth hasreleased an interim report endorsing the beginning of negotiations for apotentially broad trade agreement. The three-page document describes generalgoals and what policy measures could be agreed upon to reach those goals. Itoutlines seven trade-related areas on which the United States and the EuropeanUnion could "envision pursuing a comprehensive agreement."

The High Level Working Group was established after a U.S.-EU summit meeting on28 November 2011. Its co-chairs are U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and EUTrade Commissioner Karel De Gucht. The stated objective of the group is to"identify policies and measures to increase trade and investment tosupport mutually beneficial job creation, economic growth andcompetitiveness" in both the United States and the European Union. In thereport, the Group concludes that the best way to achieve these objectives is tonegotiate a comprehensive trade agreement. Both parties have expressed a desireto complete the negotiations quickly, with De Gucht hoping to wrap up the talkswithin 18 months.

Specifically, the report details seven categories that a potential agreementwould include: tariffs, non-tariff barriers and regulatory issues, services,investment, procurement, intellectual property rights and rules.

The first stated objective of a potential agreement would be to eliminate alltariffs on bi-lateral trade. The report notes that the goal would be for quickphase-outs of all duties except those on goods from particularly sensitivesectors. The language of the report leaves some flexibility for treatment ofthe most sensitive products.

The Working Group is careful to mention the respect that each party has for theother's regulatory regime. That said, the report emphasises a desire tostreamline regulation in order to create an "integrated transatlanticmarketplace." Recognising the delicate nature of potential negotiations,the report details only a few specific areas of potential agreement. Theseinclude a chapter on sanitary and phytosanitary standards, a chapter ontechnical barriers to trade, and provisions for promoting future regulatorycompatibility. The Working Group has also asked stakeholders to present by theend of the year concrete examples of regulatory irregularities that impedetrade in order to properly address those issues during the regulatory process.

In terms of services, the report only expresses a vague goal of addressing "remaining long-standing market access barriers." The report also notes a desire to achieve the "highest levels of liberalisation" in investment but offers little in the way of details. Another goal is to improve market access for businesses interested in selling to governments, and the report reveals that the two parties are interested in reconciling national treatment disagreements in government contract bidding. While the report lists increased IPR protection as an area where both the U.S. and the EU are interested in reaching a broad agreement, it does not lay out any concrete plans or goals.  The Working Group admits that while both parties value IPR protection they take markedly different approaches to IPR obligations in trade agreements. The co-chairs committed only to co-operate extensively with the current negotiations on the part of the Transatlantic IPR Working Group.

Finally, the report lists various other trade-related rules that might be agreed upon in the areas of trade facilitation/customs, competition and state-owned enterprises, labour and environment, small- and medium-sized enterprises, strengthening supply chains, and raw materials and energy.

Despite this enthusiasm, there are some areas that will surely cause difficulty in the negotiations. For example, EU regulations currently restrict market access for U.S. genetically-modified organisms and other agricultural products, such as soybeans. In addition, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration refuse to allow European product testing to satisfy U.S. standards.

This article was originally published in the Stitch Times magazine, September, 2012.