Another example of the benefits of free trade

Want to reduce Russia’s ability to bully its European neighbors? Promote free trade. Jim McTague of Barron’s explains why in his latest column, even including some positive comments about President Obama.

… [T]he Europeans can open our energy spigots faster than either Congress or the administration, whose seemingly intractable divisions on the issue are more along economic than party lines. All that the European Union has to do is sign a free-trade agreement with us. Then, under the law, gas and oil could flow to the EU without interference from powerful, deep-pocketed U.S. interest groups representing manufacturers, chemical companies, and environmentalists, all of which have pecuniary motives for locking up our gas supplies here at home.

Obama cited this natural-gas/free-trade nexus to our European allies in March; and he talked about its importance again on May 2 during a Rose Garden appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. What’s especially noteworthy is that Merkel agreed with the president and indicated a free-trade treaty with the U.S. is “gaining more prominence” as a feature of the Continent’s strategy to diversify its energy suppliers. Obama sold Merkel on the logic of taking a path toward our gas that skirts our contentious national politics. …

… A fifth round of free-trade negotiations between the U.S. and the EU is scheduled to take place from May 19 through May 23 in Arlington, Va., just across the Potomac from the capital. A treaty would not only cut tariffs but also reduce expensive regulatory duplication and red tape. “These often cost unnecessary time and money for companies that want to sell their products on both markets,” says the European Commission. For example, if a car is approved as safe in the EU, it has to undergo a new approval procedure in the U.S., even though the safety standards are very similar. And vice versa.

The EU hopes to sign a deal in two years. The Russians are driving this ambitious agenda. So is Obama, who deserves credit for explaining why a treaty is the best hope for the EU to tap into our arsenal of energy.

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