The prospect of a free trade zone between the US and the EU sets smiles on would be transatlantic shoppers’ faces in anticipation of cheaper iPads and affordable software packages. But is the free-trade zone a viable project? And what’s in store for the main actors? The BratislavaCHAT debate, organised by the Slovak Atlantic Commission, dug deeper in search for the answers.

The benefits of the ambitious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), or the US-EU free trade zone, have long been envisaged on both sides of the pond as they would bring unprecedented trade and investment opportunities, but the deal has its opponents.

The potential as well as pitfalls were the subject of the last 2013 BratislavaCHAT debate on 9 December 2013. Moderated by Igor Kosír, vice-chancellor for international relations at Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica, the evening hosted special guests Constanze Picking, Senior Policy Adviser at the US Chamber of Commerce, Lutz Güllner from the European Commission’s Directorate General for Trade, and Vladimír Vaňo, Chief Analyst at Sberbank Europe.

The speakers agreed that the preferred method of creating free-trade zones was still multilateral arrangements and that the block of the world’s largest developed market may seem overwhelming, however, the potential global benefits are huge. While the TTIP will not create a single market, it will bring the two highly sophisticated markets closer together making them more compatible in the process by creating a critical mass of standards harmonisation, thus triggering a global standardisation push across industries. For example, electric car development may precede the TTIP but the standards talks between the US and the EU attracted Korean, Japanese and Chinese car manufacturers who declared they want to join standards in this particular area.

Regulatory part, however, will be most complicated part of the talks but the important thing to do is to convince standardisation bodies on both sides to dissect the regulations and realize that they’re both trying to achieve the same thing albeit via different means. One of the speakers remarked it would be wrong to treat the TTIP talks as a deregulation fest. Far from it. The objective is more in line with mutual recognition of standards to avoid costly double-testing of products for the two markets. In other words, if a US regulatory body deems a car to be safe to be sold in the US, it would, by definition, be deemed safe to be sold and used in the EU. After all, grey market imports of US cars are extremely popular in Europe and authorities have no issues applying a road-worthiness stamp after minor modifications have been done and a nominal fee paid.

Agriculture is an obvious example on both sides. The EU’s position is clear – it will not accept GMO food (Genetically Modified Organisms). On the other hand, the US agricultural industry is keen to introduce GMOs to Europe, but since it is only a small portion of the US exports; the US industry will not allow agriculture to block the deal. On the other hand, the US Congress has several members from the states with a strong agricultural lobby. This is why it is essential that negotiators make technical details of the agreement digestible to political leaders.

If the EU-Canada free trade talks are any indication, the TTIP negotiations could come down to discussing how many tons of beef can be exported from the US, and how much milk can leave Europe. In the meantime, small countries, such as Slovakia, and vulnerable industries need to make sure they end up on the winning side to fully enjoy TTIP benefits.