28th Oct 2016

EU-US trade talks have failed, says Germany’s Gabriel

  • Sigmar Gabriel said he was optimistic about CETA and hoped that the Social Democratic party would adopt it later in September. (Photo: Valentina Pop)

The free trade negotiations between the European Union and the United States have failed, Germany's vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said on Sunday (28 August), adding in the same breath that a similar deal with Canada was much fairer and should be adopted.

Speaking to citizens in Berlin, the minister of economy and leader of the Social Democratic party blamed the Americans for killing the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) when they failed to budge on a number of key matters.

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"We mustn't give in to the American proposals," Gabriel said.

“In my opinion, the negotiations with the United States have de facto failed, even though nobody is really admitting it."

The 14th round to talks concluded in Brussels in July without being able even to list the negotiating positions of both parts side by side. Negotiators promised to produce such a text by the end of the summer.

They are battling against the clock.

The Republican party’s president candidate Donald Trump has poured scorn on the deal during the campaign. The Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has hinted she could stop the talks. In any case, it will take months to elect a new US trade representative and team.

By that time, France and Germany will be in full campaign mode. Both countries have seen a rise in anti-trade sentiments.

A demonstration against the trade deal, in Berlin last October, gathered more than a million people. An estimated 35,000 demonstrated in Hanover in April, a day before US president Barack Obama was due to visit. Another anti-TTIP demonstration will be held on 17 September.

French president Francois Hollande warned in May that he would oppose the agreement unless it moved forward on French key issues, such as agriculture, culture and access to public procurement markets.

Gabriel optimistic about CETA

The EU, meanwhile, has struggled to defend free trade, which is one of the EU core competencies. But its credibility as a trade partner has been torn by the stalled TTIP talks and the risk of a looming trade war with China.

To save face, the bloc must ensure that the free-trade agreement with Canada (CETA), where negotiations reached conclusion in March, will be adopted.

Earlier this summer EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said CETA only needed the approval of EU institutions, as it only covered matters that fall under exclusive EU authority. Nevertheless, the deal would be adopted as a so-called mixed agreement, meaning that it required the approval of national, and some regional, parliaments in addition to the European one.

Some member states had pushed for a say on the deal.

Malmstroem urged national leaders to defend the proposal before their parliaments and public opinion.

Gabriel said CETA was "very progressive, good and important agreement”. He said he was optimistic that the deal would be adopted by his Social Democratic colleagues during a meeting in Wolfsburg on 19 September despite criticism from the party's left wing.

The European Parliament will discuss the Canadian free-trade deal this week.

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