German Chancellor Angela Merkel sparred with hecklers waving anti-free trade banners today at a rally in Hamburg, saying that the city’s wealth is proof enough of how important trade is to Europe’s well-being.
Countering boos and chants from a small group on the city’s Elbe waterfront, Merkel said the pact when sealed won’t compromise German environmental and consumer-protection standards but serve as a global model. A string of bilateral accords between Germany and trade partners including Canada and South Korea bring mutual benefits, she said.
“Every time we’ve negotiated these pacts, standards of environmental and consumer-protection have been enhanced -- that’s why they are good for us,” said Merkel, who’s hosting campaign rallies up and down the country ahead of the May 25 European Parliament election. “All of Hamburg’s wealth derives from world trade.”
As the talks on the proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, enter a fifth round this month, German voters are showing growing concern that EU trade negotiators may buckle under pressure from the U.S. to accept weaker environmental and health standards in areas such as the use of hazardous chemicals in foodstuffs and cosmetics.
German companies are also unconvinced that the pact will boost their sales in the U.S., Germany’s most important trading partner outside the EU. Just 15 percent of 4,025 small- and medium-sized companies polled this month by Emnid for Commerzbank AG see sales rising when the pact becomes law.
Criticism of the trade pact’s alleged intransparency that’s been launched by the Greens and the Pirate Party ahead of the May 25 election is feeding into the fears over standards. In an interview in today’s Die Welt newspaper, EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht urged Merkel to do more to counter false assumptions that TTIP will bring “chlorine-washed chickens” and hormone-treated meat to Europe from the U.S.
Merkel said today that EU negotiators do not want to spell out publicly all their goals in talks with U.S. counterparts as this would harm negotiation strategy. “Hamburgers must know that’s sound practice in commercial dealings,” she said.
U.S. and EU officials have completed 4 of 10 chapters of the TTIP talks and will focus on finding common ground on services, copy write, telecommunications and the environment in talks resuming May 19 near Washington.