The TTC has proven to be a flexible and effective format for fostering transatlantic cooperation on a wide range of issues and has delivered a number of tangible outcomes. Despite its achievements to date, however, its future is uncertain. 

The TTC as a new forum for transatlantic collaboration

The EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council (TTC) is currently the most comprehensive forum for transatlantic economic cooperation. It was established during the EU-U.S. Summit on June 15, 2021, in Brussels as a forum for both sides to coordinate approaches to key global trade, economic, and technology issues and to deepen transatlantic trade and economic relations based on shared values.

Since its launch, the TTC has achieved tangible results in several of its ten working groups and is widely viewed as the prime forum for EU-U.S. alignment on trade and tech policy. In particular, progress has been made in deepening collaboration on resilient semiconductor supply chains, harmonizing telecommunications standards, and, more recently, addressing artificial intelligence (AI) risks. In addition, the TTC effectively coordinated sanctions against Russia following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

But while the TTC has been successful in addressing areas where there is common ground, it has not yet been able to resolve some of the issues on which the U.S. and EU disagree. Tax incentives included in the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) for green technologies that disadvantage non-U.S. manufacturers, for example, have been a major point of controversy between Brussels and Washington.

This dispute was discussed at the third ministerial meeting of the TTC in College Park, Maryland (USA), on December 5, 2022, but after that, decisions were made elsewhere. There are also still questions on the viability of the TTC in finding a common approach to the increasing geo-economic rivalry with China. The U.S. would like the EU to take a more assertive stance against China, but Brussels hesitates to use the TTC to coordinate on China policy.

Key outcomes of the fourth ministerial meeting of the TTC in Luleå

The most recent, fourth ministerial meeting of the TTC in Luleå, Sweden, on May 30-31, 2023, further advanced transatlantic cooperation on emerging technologies (particularly AI, quantum technology and 6G), sustainable trade, economic security and prosperity, secure connectivity, and human rights in the digital sphere.

Arguably, the most salient and notable outcomes of this meeting were related to AI. The EU and U.S. presented the first results of the TTC Joint Roadmap for Trustworthy AI and risk management, which now also includes generative AI and complements the Hiroshima AI Process, an initiative announced at the last G7 Summit in Japan to harmonize AI regulations. The roadmap includes three new expert groups to address AI terminology and taxonomy, AI standards collaboration, as well as measurement and monitoring of existing and emerging AI risks.

Against the backdrop of the transatlantic discussions on ChatGPT and similar large language models (LLMs), the TTC meeting in Luleå had a special focus on discussing opportunities and risks of generative AI. At a press conference following the meeting, European Commission Vice President and Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager announced that in the coming weeks, the EU and the U.S., in consultation with industry stakeholders, will develop a voluntary AI Code of Conduct that will include standards for companies’ use of AI. The code of conduct is intended to fill the current legal void in the drafting of AI laws worldwide.

Overall, the Luleå TTC meeting demonstrated that the wide range of policy initiatives, collaborative projects, research efforts, and agreements discussed at previous meetings have begun to yield results. For some critics of the TTC, however, this is not enough.

Silver bullet or toothless tiger? What can the TTC deliver?

When the TTC was founded in 2021, expectations were high. There was talk of a new start for transatlantic trade relations and a Euro-Atlantic tech alliance. Measured against these high expectations, the TTC’s results so far may seem modest. But that would be a wrong conclusion.

The working agenda of the TTC with its ten working groups reflects the complexity and multidimensionality of transatlantic relations in a changing geo-economic and trade environment. Questions such as the development of standards for emerging technologies, secure supply chains, data governance or export controls – to name just a few of the topics the TTC addresses – are by their nature complex and sometimes highly technical.

At the same time, however, these issues are deeply political, as technological dominance in the 21st century is more than ever a prerequisite for economic strength, societal prosperity, and military superiority. And in most cases, there are no simple solutions to these complex challenges.

The same applies to the area of trade relations. The TTC is not, and was never intended to be, a substitute for a comprehensive free trade agreement like the failed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Such a free trade agreement may be desirable, but it is not politically achievable for the foreseeable future as there is no support for it in the U.S. and great skepticism in Brussels and other European capitals. In the absence of a comprehensive free trade agreement, the TTC remains the best forum available to discuss trade issues.

Against the backdrop of numerous complex challenges, the TTC is pursuing a strategic approach that can be characterized as a compartmentalization of the transatlantic economic relationship. It seeks to separate more technical issues, where there is a high degree of consensus in principle, from those issues that are politically contentious, in order to develop as many tangible solutions as possible.

This pragmatic approach has its merits as long as it addresses complex technical issues, but it reaches its limits when political controversies come to the forefront, demonstrated by the tax incentives for green technologies in the Inflation Reduction Act or differing positions on China.

Thus, the TTC is not a silver bullet for solving all problems in transatlantic trade and tech relations, but it has proven to be a flexible and effective format for fostering cooperation on a wide range of challenges and has already delivered a number of concrete outcomes.

Beyond Lulea: The way forward

Despite the achievements of the TTC to date, political developments could limit or even terminate the work of the body in the future. Both the U.S. and the EU will hold important elections in 2024, the results of which could have an impact on the TTC, especially if a U.S. Republican administration were to enter the White House.

Against this backdrop, the EU-US Trade and Technology Council should continue to build on the work accomplished up to this point and further strengthen cooperation in other areas of mutual interest, particularly the transatlantic response to Chinese non-market economic practices. Moreover, it should increase its ambition and pace to make even greater progress on key elements of its agenda before the political environment becomes difficult during the U.S. election cycle.

Last but not least, it should strive to put in place “transatlantic guardrails” to ensure that a possible change of U.S. administration does not completely derail common trade and technology policy approaches, although this is probably the most difficult task of all.

About the author

Peter Walkenhorst is Senior Project Manager in Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Europe’s Future Program, where he works on transatlantic relations and European-Chinese relations. Previously, he was a member of the foundation’s Germany and Asia Program, responsible for projects on the systemic conflict with China and social cohesion in Asia. 

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