Maine could realize significant benefits from a free-trade agreement the United States is negotiating with the European Union, according to a high-ranking British diplomat who spoke in Portland on Thursday morning.

While the U.S. and EU economies are already relatively open, deals that further reduce trade barriers present real opportunities to increase Maine exports and create jobs, according to Rosalind Campion, counselor for global issues at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C.

“It’s much easier to do business with Europe than it is in many other parts of the world,” Campion said. “But that also means relatively small changes can deliver really big gains. You reduce one tariff line and that affects a huge range of companies and a huge range of individuals who are then able to get their goods traded.”

Campion said the United Kingdom supports the implementation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, and called it a “cost-free stimulus.” Negotiations on the trade agreement began in June 2013.

The British Embassy commissioned a study assessing the economic impact the partnership would have on each U.S. state. According to that study, implementation of a “relatively ambitious” TTIP would increase Maine exports to the EU by 23.7 percent over the next 13 years and create 3,270 net new jobs over the same period. Maine companies exported $364.4 million worth of goods to the EU in 2012, according to trade data.

Wood and paper products is the sector that could realize the greatest gains, boosting exports by $54 million by 2027. The study also lists projected export increases of chemicals ($40 million), transportation equipment ($32 million) and other machinery ($16 million).

Janine Cary, president of the Maine International Trade Center, attended the presentation and said the most important aspects of TTIP for Maine businesses involve simplifying regulatory controls. Several members of the audience expressed frustration with one EU regulation or another that impacts their ability to do business in the EU.

“Many of our Maine businesses trying to sell into the EU have to go through a whole new regime of inspections and certifications even though many have top certifications for selling nationally in the U.S.,” Cary said. “This is very expensive and time consuming. … If there is more acceptance on both ends, it will open up some of the cost and trade barriers that exist.”

The British consulate in Boston planned the event, which was sponsored by the Environmental and Energy Technology Council and held at Pierce Atwood’s law offices on Merrill Wharf. The intent was to hear from Maine business interests, discover opportunities for cooperation and talk about the U.K.’s trade priorities and why it supports implementation of the TTIP. The economic impact study was commissioned by the British Embassy, the Atlantic Counsel and the Bertelsmann Foundation.

“If I’ve learned one thing in my time in this job it’s that the views of businesses matter more than anything else in the American political process,” Campion said.

Susie Kitchens, Britain’s Consul General in Boston, who introduced Campion, said her country is looking for an “export-led recovery.”

“Jobs and growth are the key priorities of my prime minister, David Cameron, and energy and the environment because those two things are very closely linked. We’re looking for innovative ways whereby we can have growth that is sustainable,” said Kitchens.

TTIP negotiations between the U.S. and EU have so far consisted of six summits. Free-trade agreements are negotiated behind closed doors, but the broad topics being discussed include the elimination of traditional trade barriers, such as tariffs, and acceptance of similar product standards, regulations, testing requirements and mutual recognition of professional qualifications.

Kitchens opened the door to debate around the trade agreement, an opportunity seized by Maine House Rep. Sharon Treat, a Democrat from Hallowell and member of the Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission. She voiced concern that TTIP would work against U.S. climate policies by increasing the country’s exports of oil and natural gas for a resource-hungry EU.

“Here we’re focused on reducing carbon around the world and we may well be entering into an agreement that promotes fossil fuels over renewable energy, which would be completely contrary to what is our stated policy goal and is not what I think a lot of people would think of as a high-standard agreement,” she said. “You have an agreement that’s going to open up shipping as much gas and oil overseas as possible, which is going to promote more fracking, not less. It’s great for them. They get the benefits of the product without having the externalities. It’s basically turning the U.S. into a Third World country.”

Maine Sen. Troy Jackson, a Democrat from Allagash, said the free-trade agreement is more likely to reduce environmental standards than increase them.

“You know what it is, it’s the lowest common denominator,” he said. “No one is going raise standards. They’re going to lower them all the time.”

Treat also said she worries that the TTIP would threaten Maine’s sovereignty by allowing a multinational trade agreement to trump state law. That would create challenges to legislators who may want to pass laws concerning safety and product standards here in Maine, such as a ban on baby products made with the chemical bisphenol A.

Campion, from the British Embassy, empathizes with the concerns over TTIP undermining state laws.

“We don’t want companies to be interfering with domestic rules,” she said. “That’s not the aspiration of any trade deal. It’s particularly not the aspiration of a trade deal between the U.S. and EU. We want to find a way of avoiding it. We don’t quite know what that way is right now.”

Negotiations on TTIP are expected to continue with the seventh summit, to be held the week of Sept. 29 in Washington, D.C.


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