As in the trade and investment component, the mixture of progress and failure of 2012 was overshadowed by the prospect of a transatlantic free-trade deal in the coming years.
During 2012, a lot of energy was devoted to helping the EU–US High Level Working Group (HLWG) identify the areas in which trade and investment barriers need to be removed in order to prepare negotiations for a Transatlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA, see component 27). Since tariffs between the two sides of the Atlantic are already low, around 2 to 3 percent on average, recommendations revolve largely around issues of standards and norms. They might make or break the deal, with agriculture the ever-difficult topic of contention.
Apart from this preparatory work, the European Commission’s DG Trade and the EEAS – which is on the front line on such issues – enjoyed success in various areas. In February, the US and EU signed an agreement on the mutual recognition of organic products, a deal which is encouraging in the perspective of a possible TAFTA because each side accepted the other’s definition of “organic” despite substantial differences. In October, the US Patent and Trademark Office and the European Patent Office announced the early completion of the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) system, to be launched in 2013. The system incorporates the best practices of both sides of the Atlantic and creates a harmonised classification system that allows users to search for patents in the US and Europe at the same time, which could be a step towards a global patent system based on Western preferences.
There were, however, some more disappointing results in other areas. There was no progress on the agreement signed in 2011 on e-health because of the vast differences between the European and American healthcare systems. In 2012, both the US and the EU legislated separately on counterfeit products and will be introducing unique identifiers to mark products, using separate American and European systems. Transatlantic compatibility has not been a priority. In this area, the West is reducing its chances to set the standards for tomorrow’s global economy.