What Would a Free Trade Agreement with the EU Look Like?

Written by Celeste Drake, AFL-CIO

In his 2013 State of the Union Address (SOTU), President Obama announced that the U.S. would soon begin talks on a “Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership”—in other words, the U.S. will begin negotiating a “free trade agreement” (FTA) with the European Union (EU).

What would a trade agreement with Europe mean for America’s working families?  Well, as with all trade agreements, it depends—specifically, it depends on the rules for trade and investment that are included in the agreement.  If the agreement focuses on reducing tariffs, it could indeed facilitate trade and perhaps even create jobs.  But if instead it focuses on tearing down laws and regulations that make workers safe, keep our food healthy and protect our air and water—then working families in the U.S. and EU will be the losers.

As U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk explained the day after the SOTU, the negotiations will focus on “tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and very importantly, looking at the regulatory barriers and the barriers that our different standards pose to further integration of our economy.”  Just what are non-tariff barriers (NTBs)?  Unfortunately, one person’s “barrier” is another person’s important public interest regulation.  NTBs, sometimes also called “behind the border barriers,” include things like labels indicating a product’s country-of-origin, whether tuna is dolphin-safe, or whether your breakfast cereal has genetically-modified corn in it.  NTBs can also include rules on the use of hormones and other drugs in meat for human consumption, flammability standards for apparel and vehicle safety testing.  While promoting regulatory cooperation to ease trade could be a great way to increase sales of U.S. products in Europe, using a U.S.-EU trade agreement simply to tear down product labeling and safety standards would not only harm America’s and Europe’s families—it would harm our democracies by putting one company’s desire to sell its products above societal decisions about health and safety.

In another worrying development, Kirk stated that the agreement would pursue “substantial progress on . . . addressing liberalization in areas of service investment, labor and the environment . . .”  Rather than “liberalizing” labor (which typically means “increasing trade in” or “reducing standards in”), the AFL-CIO recommends that the Administration increase worker rights and protections in the FTA instead.  For example, instead of harmonizing regulations down to the lowest level, the U.S. and EU should work together to raise occupational safety and health standards and labor rights guarantees for all workers.  Ensuring that workers are safe on the job and freely able to organize and bargain for better wages and benefits is the best way to ensure that standards of living rise.

While increasing trade ties with the EU could be beneficial for both American and European workers, as with all trade agreements, the rules matter—and the AFL-CIO will continue to advocate for people-centered trade rules promote shared prosperity, not just gains for the 1%.  To read more about the U.S.-EU trade agreement, visit our U.S.-EU Trade Agreement issue page.

This post was originally published by the AFL-CIO.


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John W.
John W.1 months ago

10 Reasons why Britain should leave the European Union

Why we should leave: The top ten reasons we would be BETTER OFF OUT…


1.     Freedom to make stronger trade deals with other nations.  

2.     Freedom to spend UK resources presently through EU membership in the UK to the advantage of our citizens.

3.     Freedom to control our national borders.

4.     Freedom to restore Britain’s special legal system.

5.     Freedom to deregulate the EU’s costly mass of laws.

6.     Freedom to make major savings for British consumers.

7.     Freedom to improve the British economy and generate more jobs.

8.     Freedom to regenerate Britain’s fisheries.

9.     Freedom to save the NHS from EU threats to undermine it by harmonising healthcare across the EU, and to reduce welfare payments to non-UK EU citizens. 

10.   Freedom to restore British customs and traditions.

Scott haakon
Scott haakon2 years ago

W do not need unskilled workers now. Time to up sell good education.

Ana R2 years ago

Thanks for sharing!

Sonya Armenia Redfield


Arild Warud
Arild Warud2 years ago

I think this look like a good idea.

Alex H.
Alex H.2 years ago

I've never done economics but it is pretty obvious to anyone with any common sense that a free trade agreement between a small country and a huge country,is only going to benefit the huge country which will then flood the little country with its products,causing massive unemployment in the little country and devastation of manufacturing industries.The "BIG BULLY"then starts dictating to the government of the little country,the unfair unbalanced terms of the free trade agreement which the people realise,when it is too late,is not in their national interest.Free trade agreements are tools used in the globalisation agenda to dominate the little countries,and have their economies taken over and plundered by giant international (read American)corporations!Why any smallish sovereign government would cave in to a free trade agreement is just beyond me but one can only assume that threats of economic sanctions and other bullying tactics are being used as "the stick"?!.

Spirit Spider
Spirit Spider2 years ago

Hmmm, thanks

Ray C.
Ray C.2 years ago

costing over £25 Million plus a day for the membership, that what it looks like, and then Cameron starts trading with the Commonwealth, infact 50% of UK trade is with the Commonwealth, the rest comes from America, and a little trade with the EU, so why the UK in the first place I will never know.

the UK want no part of USE, Untied States of Europe, we love our independence, and we don't like been pulling down by any Country or Countries, this what been happening with the 17 Euro zone Countries, the EU haven't a hope in hell of the Euro zone working, they know that so do we. they should just give up as a bad job,

we trade with who we want, and when we want.

Tim C.
Tim C.2 years ago


Nils Anders Lunde