Opportunities and challenges of a transatlantic free trade agreement

27.05.2013 - Interview

For the first time the conclusion of a transatlantic free trade agreement is within reach. We should seize this historic opportunity for more growth, innovation and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. At the same time it would be a clear political signal for the viability of our free way of life and our will to make it in the age of globalization.

Article by Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, published in the St Gallen Business Review on 27 May 2013.


The world around us is changing at breathtaking speed. International trade, investment and cash is flooding into the new economic powerhouses in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Brazil, India, China and South Africa have more than doubled their share of global economic output over the past ten years. China is now the world’s second largest economic power. Brazil has overtaken Britain.

Economic globalization has many positive aspects. Millions of people throughout the world have been able to free themselves from poverty, innovations are spreading like wildfire around the globe and new information technologies are enabling people to build closer networks than at any other time in history.

At the same time we are standing on the brink of a geopolitical tipping point. For the first time in many years the world’s large and successful economies do not automatically share the values of the Enlightenment. Economic globalization is challenging our transatlantic social model of democracy, the rule of law and a social market economy at international level. In the face of increasingly tough global competition Europe and the United States must hold their own in both the economic and the political fields.

If the European and American way of life is to keep its allure in the future, we must ensure that our model remains at the helm of social and economic progress worldwide. This is the only way to ensure that the values of the Enlightenment retain a lasting appeal in a globalized world. We face major challenges in this area, not only in connection with the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, and are tackling them with a decisive approach. We are now making good progress. In the European Union we have agreed on a common strategy of solidarity with the countries affected by the debt crisis, sound budget management and growth. In the United States, too, economic statistics are improving consistently. Agreement on a comprehensive transatlantic internal market would be an important investment in the viability and competitiveness of our economies. It would also further boost the global attraction of our societies and our model of a free economy.

From an economic perspective a transatlantic internal market would be an important additional motor for growth and employment without incurring new debts. In addition, a comprehensive agreement of this nature would be a crucial catalyst for innovation in Europe and the United States. Yet the global economy as a whole would also benefit from greater economic activity here and in the United States. A comprehensive transatlantic internal market would therefore not be merely another free trade area. It would be an important new template for the global economy. In the light of growing protectionist tendencies a comprehensive agreement would set standards for an open world economic order.

Only around 10% of the world’s population now lives in the European Union and the United States. However, together we still account for 40% of global economic output and 30% of international trade. These figures reflect the vast potential that lies in even closer cooperation between the world’s two largest and most advanced economic areas.

To make the most of the advantages for growth and employment, we should aim to conclude an ambitious free trade pact which incorporates agreements on all relevant topics. These include regulation issues such as product standards and industrial norms. Together we have the knowledge and the influence to set benchmarks that are also accepted in a globalized world. We want to be the ones to set tomorrow’s standards, from electric mobility to the protection of intellectual property. Our environmental and social standards, which are stringent in global comparison, could also be used as a model for future economic agreements with the rest of the world.

However, a transatlantic agreement holds potential that goes far beyond the strictly economic. It would also help consolidate the close political alliance between Europe and the United States and would at the same time send a strong message about the West’s political and economic clout.

No two regions of the world enjoy such close historical, political and economic ties as the United States and Europe. Together we defended freedom, democracy and the rule of law during the Cold War. After the fall of the Wall we stood by the people in Eastern Europe as they worked to build free, democratic societies. Today we continue to stand side by side to promote our shared values, whether in Afghanistan, Myanmar or North Africa and the Maghreb region. Now the time is ripe for another decisive step forward towards an even closer knit transatlantic economic community based on shared values.

It goes without saying that negotiations on a transatlantic internal market will not be straightforward. There are plenty of potential stumbling blocks. But never before has the climate been so favourable. Today there is an unprecedentedly broad consensus among political leaders in Europe and the United States on establishing a comprehensive transatlantic market. Europe and the United States are now more determined than ever to open negotiations quickly. Together we want to renew and intensify the transatlantic alliance and thereby create the largest internal market in the world.

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