A new paper by Chatham House argues that failure of the negotiations could signal the demise of the Western-led international order, particularly now the UK has decided to leave the EU, while success would also bring risks from the response to TTIP by economic and geopolitical rivals.

The container ship Osaka Express, operated by Hapag-Lloyd AG, leaves the container terminal at the port in Southampton, UK, on 2 October 2015. Photo: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg/Getty Images.The container ship Osaka Express, operated by Hapag-Lloyd AG, leaves the container terminal at the port in Southampton, UK, on 2 October 2015. Photo: Getty Images.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated between the European Union (EU) and the United States has been sold by politicians on both sides as a strategic opportunity to shape globalization to the benefit of both parties. But a new research paper from Chatham House finds that the risks of such an ambitious project are significant – whether or not the current deadlock in negotiations can be overcome – and the UK vote for Brexit increases those risks.

The primary strategic benefit of TTIP would be to enable the United States and the EU to set the ‘rules of the road’ for international trade in the 21st century. TTIP’s backers hope that if the EU and the United States can agree on a new set of standards, the power of their combined markets will lead other countries to adopt the same rules. According to Realizing TTIP’s Strategic Potential one of the risks of agreeing such far-reaching rules is that they set the bar too high for other countries to accept. By imposing restrictive rules unilaterally on, for example, state-owned enterprises, TTIP could provoke retaliation and encourage other countries to establish alternative rules.

TTIP also has the potential to attract other countries to align themselves economically and politically with the EU and the United States due to their ‘soft-power’. But this benefit will only materialise if strategically important countries, such as Turkey, are able to join. The research finds that the demands placed on Turkey may be too high for this to be a realistic prospect in the near future. Ukraine is another strategic country that could be targeted for expansion of TTIP, but extending membership to Ukraine would be regarded by Russia as a 'serious escalation' by the West in their confrontation.

The paper argues there would be benefits to the UK, the EU and the United States if the UK were to join TTIP after the UK leaves the EU. For the UK it could provide the only real prospect of being able to influence international standards and a relatively quick means to conclude a comprehensive trade deal with the United States. For the EU and the United States, it would ensure the scale and attractiveness of TTIP is not reduced by the loss of one of the major European economies. It would also provide an immediate opportunity to establish TTIP as a plurilateral deal that is open to new members. The process would be made easier if the UK were to maintain an active role in the development of the EU position on TTIP, while the UK is still a member of the EU. This would mean that the UK would be in a position to accept the terms required to join TTIP relatively quickly upon exiting the EU. There will inevitably be sensitivities in the UK, other EU member states and the EU institutions about this, but it is in the strategic interests of all parties.

The most immediate risk for TTIP, however, is of failure. Despite 14 rounds of negotiations so far there is still disagreement over what should be included in the scope of the negotiations, including issues such as financial services regulation, which the United States is determined to exclude, and how to handle politically sensitive questions such as investor-state dispute settlement, which has become a hot-button issue in the EU. Even if an agreement is reached it must then be ratified by a sceptical US Congress, where there are challenges on both sides of the aisle, and by EU institutions and member states. The hostility to TTIP in many parts of Europe, especially in Germany, is not encouraging.

If the negotiations break down, or a deal is reached that falls short of the ambition set for it, this would send a damaging signal to the rest of the world about the ability of the EU and the United States to work together. It could also hasten the demise of their influence. For the EU, the stakes are greater now that the UK has decided to leave the EU.

The paper notes that the EU-US trade relationship is still the largest bilateral relationship in the world 'for now', but that in most sectors the lead over China is decreasing. If they miss this opportunity, the United States and the EU may not get another chance to set the standards that will govern the global trading order in the 21st century.

Report author, Gregor Irwin, said:

'TTIP negotiations are hanging in the balance. If they succeed TTIP has the potential to shape the next generation of trade rules and ensure a transatlantic vision for the international trading system prevails.  

'For now, both sides are facing off against each other in the negotiations and failing to focus enough on the strategic risks and opportunities from TTIP. If the full strategic potential from TTIP is to be realized they must pay more attention to how other countries are likely to respond.

'The UK’s decision to leave to leave the EU should sharpen the incentives that both sides have to conclude a deal. It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that the UK is able to join TTIP once the UK leaves the EU.

'Further opening up TTIP to include Turkey could create an alternative anchor for its economic and political relationship with the EU, short of EU membership. It could transform Turkey’s relationship with the EU, just as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has transformed Mexico’s relationship with the US.'

Editor's notes: 

Read Realizing TTIP’s Strategic Potential here.

This research paper is authored by Gregor Irwin, Chief Economist of the strategic advisory firm Global Counsel and former Chief Economist of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Gregor Irwin is available for interview. For interview requests please contact the press office.