Remember the good old days, when trade deals were so boring nobody even cared they were happening? That started to change with the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, (ACTA), where the copyright industries rather foolishly tried to slip in some proposals that would have had big impacts on the online world. As Techdirt reported at the time, that led to an unprecedented awareness of, and resistance to, ACTA that ultimately caused its defeat in the European Parliament.
After that, things were never the same again in the world of trade deals, because digital activists were now on the lookout for the bad stuff hidden in the stultifyingly dull language. They soon found it in TPP, which people realized was basically “Son of ACTA,” but worse. Then came TAFTA/TTIP, which publicly dropped its ACTA-like elements in a desperate attempt to stave off criticisms and mass protests. That didn’t work, of course; TTIP soon ground to a halt, and remains in limbo. Even though TPP was eventually concluded after years of delays, it was derailed by the election of Donald Trump as US President, who promptly withdrew from the deal. But if you thought things had finally quieted down for a while — TISA too has dropped off the radar recently — think again. There’s a new twist in the global trade deal saga, as the Handelsblatt newspaper reports:
The European Union is positioning itself to fill any vacuum left behind by the United States as the Trump administration spurns trade deals in Asia and Latin America.
E.U. Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said Brussels has been in close contact with several Asia-Pacific countries since the White House decided to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“We have seen that many of the TPP countries are now approaching us and saying ‘we still want to do deals,’ ” Ms. Malmström told Handelsblatt. “We are engaged with basically all of them, either negotiating or have a deal or preparing negotiations.”
Yes, those wily Europeans are trying to take advantage of the US’s apparent withdrawal from multilateral trade negotiations to stitch up deals with the other Pacific rim countries that have just been left at the TPP altar. An agreement with the EU, whether individually or as a bloc, could be a good option for the ex-TPP nations. It would allow each of them to move forward with a trade deal after expending so much political capital on the failed TPP, and it would show that being jilted by the US is not the end of the world. For the EU, it would signal that it can take the initiative and become the flag-bearer for free trade at a time when Trump seems to be embracing protectionism, and turning his back on Europe.
It’s early days yet, and if the previous five years have taught us anything, it is that nothing is certain in the world of trade deals. It’s still possible that the Trump administration will perform a U-turn and embrace TPP, perhaps with some token changes to justify the move. But of one thing we can be sure: we’re not going back anytime soon to the days when trade deals were boring.