A recent International Monetary Fund study of European economic patterns demonstrated the wide differences among E.U. members when it comes to trade — with Ireland by far the most export-dependent. According to the fund’s study, Irish companies and workers add the equivalent of half the country’s annual economic output to goods and services that are exported. The figure for Greece is about 10 percent.
The International Monetary Fund said that, to the extent a country is already wired into the global trading system, it benefits more from any overall jump in trade.
A European Commission study estimated the potential benefit of a U.S. agreement in the hundreds of billions of dollars, mostly in cost and efficiency savings in chemical, auto and other manufacturing industries where formal tariffs are dwarfed in importance by the expense of dealing with conflicting regulatory systems.
Trade officials point to the auto industry as a particularly big potential winner, noting the example of a BMW plant in South Carolina that has to put one type of bumper on cars for the U.S. market and a different one for models it ships back to Europe. While the cars produced on each side of the Atlantic are considered comparable in safety, the safety testing methods and regulations are different, forcing manufacturers to adapt.
Other areas of negotiation could be more sensitive.
Ireland, with its close cultural ties and large expatriate population in the United States, has a particular interest in more liberal U.S. immigration law. Others in Europe have suggested allowing broader recognition between the United States and Europe of professional licensing rules, and more liberal visa regulations for skilled workers.
That may play well in the United Kingdom, where large financial companies would benefit from easier immigration in their hunt for talent.
Will the rest of Europe agree if it means U.S. engineers or accountants more easily setting up shop at a time of high regional unemployment?
European trade officials argue that despite the sometimes divergent interests among E.U. members, compromise can be found. Some rules that restricted U.S. food sales have already been relaxed as a confidence-building measure ahead of the talks.
Despite likely differences in national priorities, European officials say any agreement will balance benefits well enough to win full E.U. support.
“It is not something where Europe is going to have to change its legislation and the U.S. is not going to have to do anything. It is two heavyweights. We are in the same boxing category,” a European trade official said.
Kenny’s agenda in the United States demonstrates how any agreement might be seen differently across Europe’s different national economies. It included St. Patrick’s Day in New York — a powerful symbol of how a small nation can tap into the culture of the world’s financial center — before his meetings with Obama in Washington. Then he is off to Seattle and Silicon Valley to visit tech companies, entertainment giants and others, many of which have already set up shop in Ireland and could be courted to expand.
The trade issues now on the table “could have been addressed many years ago. Now we have an opportunity to drive it on behalf of the two greatest trading blocks in the world,” Kenny said. And if the flow of investment and jobs across the Atlantic begins to grow, “we can demonstrate that we are a bridge.”