More by accident than by design, 2013 is shaping up to be the most consequential year for U.S. trade policy since 2001, when China joined the World Trade Organization and the star-crossed Doha Round was launched. By the end of this year, negotiations could be completed on the first trans-Pacific free trade agreement in history, and talks should be well underway on a trans-Atlantic deal between the United States and the European Union. At the same time, new WTO negotiations will begin on a broad agreement to liberalize trade in service industries such as consulting, banking, insurance and architecture, and on expanding the 1996 Information Technology Agreement that eliminated tariffs on trade in computers, memory chips and other devices and helped trigger explosive growth in those industries. The Obama administration is also hoping to conclude bilateral investment treaties with the two largest emerging markets in the world, China and India, as well as adding China to the WTO agreement covering government purchases of goods and services.
Collectively, these agreements could produce the biggest negotiated liberalization of trade since the early 1990s, when the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Uruguay Round of world trade negotiations were completed. These new moves are not the result of any grand strategy by the United States or any other country, but instead are the flowering of initiatives that have either been under consideration or moving forward slowly for many years.