The news from the UK was hardly announced when Jose Bové, the French agri-activist and member of the European Parliament, who earned his first Luddite stripes through media-savvy trashing of McDonalds and then GMO test beds in France, couldn’t contain his glee.
On French national news radio, he enthused how this was the moment to take advantage of the UK’s departure from the European Union to start also trashing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) because, he said, “it represents an attack on Europeans’ health and food safety standards and allow business to bypass them and take their cases to a new supra-national court.”
While Bové’s attack on TTIP might be understandable, given his political positioning, no such forbearance should be accorded to France’s latest man in a hurry, Emmanuel Macron, the French Economy Minister, who has launched a faux stealth campaign to be the country’s next president.
Macron, a former Rothschild investment banker, used a debate forum just 24 hours after the Brexit news, to declare that Europe should seize the moment to take back its future through a new program that would no longer be affected by what he termed “ultra-liberal” UK.
Both political shots across the bow spell big trouble for transatlantic trade. Indeed, TTIP was already in trouble because neither the U.S. nor Europeans took seriously the perfect storm that was brewing within anti-globalization and other activist non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) circles to blow the negotiations off course and into the stormiest of waters.
Yet could there be any good news in Brexit’s impact on the outlook for TTIP?
The answer, surprisingly, is yes. For it is evident that TTIP cannot move ahead until the terms of the UK’s commercial relationship with the EU are clear—and that will take time that must be be used for the proponents of this potential boon to jobs, trade, and economic development to make their voices heard. Indeed, U.S. President Obama already has made it clear that there is no UK-U.S. free trade agreement on the horizon.
Simply put, this time, business must use this breathing space to separate fear-mongering myths from reality. If it does not take this unexpected second chance, TTIP is doomed.
For almost two years, the political will in Europe has been lacking to sustain negotiations necessary to deliver an agreement between the U.S. and the EU. At the same time, U.S. and European business did not rise to the occasion to explain to the European and American people the benefits of a free trade agreement of the magnitude of TTIP.
Now it is even more questionable whether the EU will have the motivation or time on their hands to continue negotiating TTIP. If TTIP is important to business, then business needs to make the case loud and clear that it is the best hope of economic and job growth on both sides of the Atlantic. This is the responsibility of the business community because it is the direct beneficiary of the ambitious trade and investment pact. And it is business which needs to demonstrate to the public that TTIP does not leave those who feel disenfranchised behind.
Fears fueled by anti-globalization public sentiment and xenophobia cannot be calmed with economic arguments and statistics. Real cases must be demonstrated—and they can be—of the thousands of small and medium-sized and, yes, start-up companies, that will be winners from TTIP—and so will their employees, among their other stakeholders.
Will Brexit be the wake-up call business needed? Or will it be President Trump slapping 45-percent tariffs on imports from China or building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico or ending the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or ditching the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)? Or will it take full blown trade wars as a result of implementation of such policies in contravention of international agreed upon rules?
What will be the fate of the transatlantic trade pact? Shall it be left to fate? Or will business step up and make the case made by economists and other experts time and time again that open trade boosts economic growth by increased trade and investment. It’s a simple concept that market access allows business more opportunities to reach more consumers. More business creates more jobs. It is up to business to explain to the public at large the details of this ambitious, comprehensive and high standard agreement and how it creates jobs for them. It is up to business to explain that international trade is not the problem but part of the solution. Will business on both sides of the Atlantic be up to that?
Evelyn Suarez is a Washington, D.C.-based international trade lawyer and consultant. She is Founder and Principal of The Suarez Firm and is President of the Association of Women in International Trade (WIIT). Seth Goldschlager, an American attorney and former journalist, is a Paris-based advisor on corporate communications and public affairs.