EU and U.S. leaders join forces to tackle global trade and technology challenges
During the US-EU Summit, which took place in Brussels on 15 June 2021, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen and U.S. President Joe Biden launched the EU-US Trade and Technology Council (“the TTC”) to show a joint commitment to strengthening industrial leadership. According to Valdis Dombrovskis, Commission Executive Vice President and EU Trade Commissioner, the TTC should facilitate working together “to ensure that trade and technology serve our societies and economies, while upholding our common values.”
On 2 December 2020, the European Commission put forward a proposal for a new transatlantic agenda in the hope that the incoming new U.S. administration would be open to more cooperation on a transatlantic level. This agenda centres on four key pillars: working together for a healthier world – COVID-19 and beyond; working together to protect our planet and prosperity; working together on technology, trade and standards and; working together towards a safer, more prosperous and more democratic world.
Under the second pillar of the agenda, the EU stated its desire to establish a new EU-US Trade and Technology Council, to create a dialogue on online platforms, fair taxation, data flows and critical technologies, amongst other topics. Last month’s EU-US Summit provided the opportunity for the US to confirm its commitment to this programme.
The TTC will have a political level, responsible for steering the cooperation, and an operational level. The political level will consist of both U.S. and EU co-chairs: European Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager; Executive Vice President Dombrovskis; U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken; U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo; and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. Other members of the EU College of Commissioners and U.S. departments will be invited to contribute on specific issues as appropriate.
The TTC will operate through 10 working groups responsible for converting political decisions into deliverables, coordinating the technical work and reporting to the political level.
The working groups are as follows:
- Technology standards cooperation (including AI and Internet of Things, among other emerging technologies);
- Climate and green tech;
- Secure supply chains, including semiconductors;
- ICT security and competitiveness;
- Data governance and technology platforms;
- The misuse of technology threatening security and human rights;
- Export controls;
- Investment screening;
- Promoting SME access to and use of digital technologies; and
- Global trade challenges.
Setting global rulebooks
EU and U.S. collaboration is regarded as particularly important in order to ensure the two jurisdictions set the “rules of the road” in key areas of technology, so that authoritarian regimes do not do this first. Artificial intelligence is likely to be a focus of the TTC, with Ms Vestager stating that the Commission would work with the United States on “human-centred digitisation.”
Given the ongoing global shortage of semiconductors, supply issues are likely to be another key area of focus for the TTC. Both the United States and the EU have announced plans to provide financial incentives to manufacturers in a bid to attract them away from the Pacific Ring and towards their respective territories.
Some data protection advocates expressed disappointment left at the lack of concrete outcomes from the Summit on the topic of transatlantic data transfers. The final statement mentioned only a commitment “to work together to ensure safe, secure, and trusted cross-border data flows that protect consumers and enhance privacy protections.”
Since the Schrems II ruling by the European Court of Justice last summer, which overruled the EU-US Privacy Shield agreement on transatlantic data transfers, both sides are keen to reach a new framework agreement. However, it remains to be seen what the TTC can achieve in this regard.
Joint Technology Competition Policy Dialogue
Alongside the TTC, the EU and United States have established a Joint Technology Competition Policy Dialogue that will “focus on developing common approaches and strengthening the cooperation on competition policy and enforcement in the tech sectors.” The U.S. Congress is currently developing a number of bills. It is also notable that Lina Khan, known to take a critical approach to multinational tech companies, was appointed as the Chair of the Federal Trade Commission.
However, the Director of the European Centre for International Political Economy, Fredrik Erixon, noted that a strong competition agenda vis-à-vis “Big Tech” does not mean that the United States will necessarily support EU proposals to regulate platforms covering only US companies.