Beyond the Beltways: Tour Highlights Regional Views on T-TIP for EP Staffers

By Elizabeth Martin-Shukrun, Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Mission to the EU

What does Carolina barbecue have to do with T-TIP? It’s a juicy question. This week, a group of European Parliament staffers rounds off a U.S. Mission-organized visit to the United States focused on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), with stops in North and South Carolina. Between meetings with European businesses such as BMW and Michelin investing in South Carolina, visits to tech centers and agricultural producers, and discussions with state and local officials and business associations on how trade benefits them, they have found time to savor the legendary barbecue for which the Carolinas are known.

EP staffers tweet

Most EU representatives visit Washington regularly, meeting with Members of Congress and Administration officials, yet they seldom venture beyond the Beltway on those trips. If U.S. policies are made in Washington, is it important for EU officials to understand South Carolina or Pennsylvania?

The State Department thinks it is. Through the multiple exchange programs USEU organizes each year, we seek to expose young EU policymakers, civil society leaders, and opinion shapers to a wide spectrum of views in the United States. At the heart of these exchanges is the belief that a better understanding of the many voices that inform U.S. policies will strengthen the transatlantic relationship.

For this exchange, the diverse delegation of ten staffers, working for a variety of political groups, EP committees, MEPs, or in the General Secretariat, has spent the past ten days on a whirlwind tour of Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Columbia and Greenville, South Carolina; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

EP staffer tweet“The trip has been an eye-opener and surprising in many ways,” writes EP staffer and self-described “digital wonk” Sabina Ciofu, who has been documenting the group’s trip via Twitter and Facebook. “It was particularly astonishing to discover that trade agreements are not only a topic of interest in Washington D.C., but that the debate reaches many local communities and businesses in the country. With very few exceptions, trade and the implicit reduction of tariffs for exports seems to have a good vibe of economic development and prosperity among the local communities we had a chance to meet. And it made me think that this is something we should be doing more of in Europe, by driving the T-TIP debate from an inter-institutional discussion in Brussels also into the Member States and local municipalities. That way, you can always have that necessary honest exchange on the opportunities and challenges a trade agreement of this magnitude will bring.”

2015-04-15_ep_staffers_ttip_tour3The EP group not only met T-TIP supporters but also exchanged views with trade skeptics such as labor organizations, even visiting an organization working to re-train American workers whose jobs were displaced due to global trade. Understanding the internal American debate on T-TIP is crucial for understanding the Administration’s goals.

Just as Commission and Parliament officials must solicit views from beyond the Brussels Ring when creating policies affecting EU citizens, we believe getting a view from outside the Washington Beltway can provide perspectives leading to more informed policies affecting the U.S.-EU relationship.  And maybe, just maybe, we’ll see an increase in EU imports of Carolina barbecue sauce.

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