Merkel Spokesman Rejects Vice Chancellor’s Claim TTIP Is Dead

  • Economy minister cited de-facto failure of EU-U.S. trade talks
  • BDI industry lobby ‘astonished,’ urges political leadership

German business groups and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman rejected her deputy’s assertion that U.S.-European talks on a free-trade accord have effectively failed.

Ulrich Grillo, head of the Federation of German Industries, called the comment by Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel “astonishing” and urged Merkel’s government to throw its full weight behind the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations. Gabriel heads the Social Democratic Party, which is Merkel’s junior coalition partner, making him both vice chancellor and a political rival.

“It’s completely natural that there would still be many open questions in the TTIP talks,” Grillo said in an e-mailed statement on Monday. “Now we need political leadership to resolve the issues.”

Gabriel’s comment on Sunday that nobody wants to admit that the negotiations have “de-facto broken down” partly reflects political jockeying ahead of two German state votes in September and federal elections next year. While Merkel and President Barack Obama have pushed for a deal this year, Gabriel has previously suggested the talks would fail unless the U.S. makes concessions to European Union negotiators.

“TTIP shouldn’t be allowed to fall victim to the incipient election campaign,” Matthias Wissmann, head of Germany’s VDA auto industry association, said in a statement on the group’s website.

While the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU has resulted in greater uncertainty in the TTIP negotiations, both sides have reaffirmed the goal of concluding the talks before Obama leaves office, even as opposition against trade accords has grown in countries plagued by unemployment and unequal wage growth.

There’s “no disagreement” with Gabriel that the EU and U.S. are at odds on “several important questions,” yet talks are continuing “and quite often the decisive things only happen in the final round,” Steffen Seibert, Merkel’s chief spokesman, told reporters in Berlin.

The European Commission “stands ready to close this deal by the end of the year, spokesman Margaritis Schinas said in Brussels on Monday. The commission is making steady progress in the negotiations, which have entered a crucial stage, he said.

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