A Pond Between Friends

Ever since the first Norsemen sailed to the New World, the mental distance across the Atlantic has shrunk. Now Britain seeks to shrink it further. It wants the European Union and United States to form a "transatlantic marketplace."

In a speech yesterday in New York, British finance minister Gordon Brown asked the US to back a study on creating a fully open trading and commercial relationship between the world's two largest markets.

The idea has been kicked around in various circles since the end of the cold war. The hope is to create an "economic NATO" that would prevent Europe and the US from drifting apart - as they seem to be doing lately. Germany first raised the idea after the creation of NAFTA in 1995 and the start of a Pacific Rim trade grouping.

A transatlantic free-trade area would make sense if talks on expanding the scope of the World Trade Organization continue to falter. The parties cannot even agree on an agenda.

A "North Atlantic Free Trade Area" (yes, NAFTA II) would also help head off bitter trade disputes that have so damaged the strategic ties between Europe and the US. Mr. Brown estimates the economic benefit of such a zone to both the US and EU to be about $350 billion.

France, as expected, opposes the idea. It doesn't want American dominance in certain markets, such as culture and agriculture. And the rest of the world may worry that it may be shut out of such a market.

But for now, the US should at least study the idea of bringing the Old and New World even closer together.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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