The economic crisis and a US political climate inimical to consumer protection were among the factors discouraging the harmonisation of standards and norms in 2011.
Although it is a long way from the excitement of high diplomacy, the effort to harmonise standards and norms is both important for transatlantic economic activity and crucial for retaining global economic leadership in the future. There were some successes in this area in 2011. For example, the Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency are developing common standards for the inspection of foreign producers of drugs, especially those in China. At the annual Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) between the US and the EU, in November, an agreement on the mutual recognition of “secure traders” – certified importers and exporters that will be allowed to go through customs more swiftly – was signed. With the participation of carmakers such as Audi and Ford, some progress was also made on harmonising norms for electric vehicles and for the so-called smart grids designed to distribute electricity more efficiently. The transatlantic partners are hoping to set global standards for tomorrow’s industries such as cloud computing and nanotechnologies, and they have joined forces to answer multi-faceted challenges such as antibiotic resistance – a domain in which Sweden has been particularly active.
However, obstacles to transatlantic unity remain. US–EU negotiations on consumer protection (including product safety, recalls and internet scams) stalled. In this area, deep transatlantic differences in legal approaches and administrative structures are reinforced by a political climate inimical to consumer protection in the US House of Representatives. Societal preferences also play a negative role on issues such as the regulation of shale gas. The very important sector of food remains ground zero in the transatlantic dialogue, with deep obstacles rooted in deeply entrenched interests and public opinion preferences about genetically modified food (in Europe) or the use of growth hormones (in the US), all of which has made reaching new agreements a very difficult process. The crisis has also taken its toll on past agreements such as the one signed on e-health in 2010, where implementation is proving slow. Overall progress therefore remained limited in 2011.