German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued a staunch joint defence of free trade yesterday (19 March), as the United States pushes towards greater protectionism.
“We want free and open markets,” Merkel said in a speech in Hanover, a day before the world’s biggest computer trade fair, CeBIT, kicks off in the central German city. The event is partnered with Japan this year.
“In these times of inter-connectedness, we want to link together our societies and work together in an equitable way. That’s what free trade is about,” she said.
— CeBIT (@cebit) March 19, 2017
She made no direct reference to US President Donald Trump, elected on a protectionist “America First” platform promising to slash trade deficits, but noted that the European Union and Japan are negotiating a free trade deal that may be reached this year.
“At a time when we are arguing a lot over free trade, open borders and democratic values, it’s a good sign that Japan and Germany are not arguing” over trade, she said.
Abe, who is in Hanover as part of a European tour, said that Japan “wants to be the champion upholding open systems alongside Germany”.
He said it was through connectedness that economies would grow, and called for a swift conclusion to the EU-Japan trade deal.
But he added: “We must not create conditions by which wealth becomes concentrated among only some people.”
At a fraught G20 meeting in the German spa town of Baden-Baden on Saturday (18 March), the US challenged long-standing global principles surrounding free trade, refusing to renew past anti-protectionist pledges and threatening to reopen negotiations on World Trade Organisation deals.
Since taking office, Trump has withdrawn the US from a trans-Pacific free trade pact and attacked export giants China and Germany over their massive trade surpluses.
Merkel’s meeting on Friday (16 March) with Trump in the White House was widely described as icy.
During the press conference, Merkel said “it’s much, much better to talk to one another and not about one another, and I think our conversation proved this.”
But even the lighter moments were tinged with tension.
Merkel looking more petrified in this one. pic.twitter.com/asJ8y9FRtb
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) March 20, 2017
Trump insisted he was not isolationist, saying: “I’m a free trader but also a fair trader.”
Merkel rejected Trump’s suggestion that individual European countries should negotiate free trade deals with the United States, rather than under existing EU-US negotiations.
“I hope we can come back to the table and talk about the agreement” between the EU and US, she said.