PETER Sutherland made his reputation as the man who finally brought the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) round of free trade talks to a successful conclusion in late 1993. The deal was a shot in the arm for the world economy and cemented the former Fine Gael attorney general's reputation as a man who gets things done.
It was an achievement so rare that the world's largest financial companies have not stopped showering Mr Sutherland with money and accolades ever since.
The present round of trade talks, known as the Doha round, have run adrift after more than a decade of posturing and it now appears that the US and EU have decided to give up and go it alone. That decision will be welcomed by many.
At the annual meeting of plutocrats in Davos last month, the most common demand was for some sort of trade deal. Free trade is much loved by the super rich although it poses threats and challenges to the rest of us. Unions worry about competition from low wage countries while many businesses and farmers stand to lose out if the various subsidies are scrapped.
Still, the benefits are obvious. Free trade tends to promote peace, love and understanding and keep companies competitive and on their toes.
The EU has been pushing for a bilateral free trade agreement for sometime but it was not clear until the state of the union speech whether US President Barack Obama would anger the unions which contribute to the Democrats' finances.
This undoubtedly creates an opportunity for us. Ireland happens to hold the EU presidency and could use this position to broker a deal that would help Europe and ourselves.
We stand to benefit hugely if a deal is reached. Foreign direct investment could flow even more generously. Exports could rise further. There is a snag for the Government, a snag that a farmer's son such as Richard Bruton, pictured, will understand instinctively; the Common Agricultural Policy. Farmers stand to lose out in any deal because the subsidies paid by the EU and US to farmers are one of the biggest distortions between the two trading blocs. Fine Gael voters won't like that.
A second benefit is reputational. A successful conclusion to the talks could help restore Ireland's reputation. GATT turned Peter Sutherland into un homme serieux rather than just an another ex-attorney general from a small island. It could do the same for Ireland. The Government will have to tread on many toes to make this happen but it would be a triumph if a deal was agreed.