December 8, 2013 6:22 pm
The latter two were passed during the early stages of America’s most robust business expansion since the second world war. Today’s trade talks come amid a far more insipid recovery and the slide in US middle-class incomes. In contrast to Mexico, where Nafta’s anniversary is being celebrated unabashedly, nobody in Washington is lighting any candles.
That in turn emboldens Europe to dig in its heels on food safety, where it has tougher standards than the US. The same applies to privacy. It does not help that Germany, the key European player, is still smarting over Edward Snowden’s revelations, particularly a leaked document suggesting that Angela Merkel’s mobile phone was tapped from 2002, three years before she became chancellor. Here again, Mr Obama will get nowhere unless he takes up a position on the front line. Sidelining privacy, food safety and financial services would rob any deal of its potency.
Slippage is already apparent. Officials caution that the informal mid-2014 deadline to conclude TTIP negotiations is now likely to be pushed back to 2015.
A moment of truth for the Pacific talks may be closer. It did not help that Mr Obama cancelled his Asia trip in October during the US government shutdown.
On the plus side, US opinion is much more realistic nowadays about the give and take of globalisation. In contrast to fears of the “giant sucking sound” that almost derailed Nafta in 1993, Americans today seem grimly resigned to global integration.
According to a poll last week by Pew Research and the CFR, 52 per cent said the US “should mind its own business internationally” – the highest level of isolationism since the question was first posed half a century ago. Wars are very much off the menu. Yet a remarkable 77 per cent said that boosting global trade would be good for the US. The backdrop is there for Mr Obama to push ahead.
But the public’s receptiveness is by no means a blank cheque. The poll also highlighted a huge gap between ordinary Americans and the 2,000 members of the CFR it canvassed – as good a cross-section of the US elite as you can find. More than eight out of 10 Americans said “protecting jobs” should be the main US priority. Only 29 per cent of the CFR’s members agreed.
To sell big trade deals beyond Washington’s beltway, the president will need to convince the 99 per cent that they would benefit too. Presumably Mr Obama thinks they would. The sooner he starts making that case the better.