World

Obama Is Right To Comment On EU Debate

| by Nicholas Roberts
British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack ObamaBritish Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama has waded into the contentious debate over whether Britain should remain in the European Union.

As the chief executive of the U.S., Obama has a clear purpose in his well-known desire for Britain to stay in the EU.

Leaving the EU would affect important trade deals and obligations the U.S. and the EU maintain, and it is the president's responsibility to delineate the potential economic drawbacks of a British exit -- "Brexit" -- in how it would affect Britain's relationship with the U.S.

The "Brexit" debate has largely been framed around Britain's sovereignty, as well as a hostility to EU bureaucracies and uncontrolled immigration. These factors are cited by London Mayor Boris Johnson in a March 14 Telegraph article strongly critical of Obama's decision to weigh in on the debate, The Washington Post reports.

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While Britain would no longer pay into the EU budget, it would no longer be a part of the EU's single market, which imposes no tariffs on imports or exports among member states. Beyond this, more than 50 percent of the U.K.'s exports go to other EU countries and its membership allows it to influence trade rules, according to The Week.

What matters more from the U.S. perspective is the effect a Brexit would have on existing trade deals. The U.S. and the EU are currently negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership which would create the largest free trade area in the world.  

Britain would have more limited access to U.S. markets through such an agreement if it pulls out of the EU, although some British politicians have advocated that the country pursue its own trade deals.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has suggested, for example, that Britain follow the lead of Norway, a country that has access to the EU single market but is not bound by certain EU laws. But others argue that even if this was possible, it would be tantamount to continue subjecting Britain to EU law, except now it would have less say on the content of EU regulations.

Beyond this, the U.S. is not interested in pursuing an entirely new trade deal solely with Britain. In October 2015, U.S. trade representative Michael Froman said the U.S. was not "in the market for free trade agreements with individual countries" and said he thinks it is "absolutely clear" that Britain has more negotiating clout inside the EU than outside of it, The Guardian reports.

Also, because the U.S. and Britain have no individual trade agreements, "they [Britain] would be subject to the same tariffs -- and other trade-related measures -- as China, or Brazil or India," according to Froman.

Those campaigning for Britain to leave the EU are aware that Obama is popular in Britain, holding about a 65 percent approval rating, according to Pew Research Center.  In this context, Johnson's backlash against Obama makes sense.  

Obama most certainly has real concerns over how the decision will affect trade and investment ties between the U.S. and Britain and how it will affect U.S.-EU relations in a broader sense.  He has a right to express these concerns and how such a decision would affect these relationships, which are going to be ever more crucial to consider as the June 23 vote on the issue approaches.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: The Washington Post, The Week, The Guardian, Pew Research Center / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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