The Basis of Transatlantic Interests

WASHINGTON/BERLIN | | usa

WASHINGTON/BERLIN (Own report) - The German Foreign Minister has called on the new US administration to consolidate transatlantic economic relations. "Europe and the USA" should "soon reach an agreement on concrete negotiations for a transatlantic free trade zone," proposed Guido Westerwelle. This could bring new "growth." Experts are estimating billions in possible added profits. Regarding its strategic consequences, the foreign minister claimed that the close cooperation would strengthen the "basis of common interests" in the global competition. Berlin's initiative was provoked by Washington's explicit announcement that, in the future, it will mainly focus on East and Southeast Asia, rather than on Europe. The German government is reacting with an expansion of its own Asian activities, while simultaneously insuring its alliance with the USA in global policy. Berlin is also making demands that are more extensive. Foreign Minister Westerwelle calls on Washington to assume the German austerity policy as its own model for fighting the crisis.

First Free Trade Plans

Since the 1990s, there have been discussions on the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA). Already at that time, it was clear that the USA would eventually shift the focus of its attention to the Pacific Basin, as Washington's reaction to the rise of the People's Republic China. Bonn wanted to take preventive measures to permanently insure its exclusive relationship with the USA. But, deliberations proved futile, because the USA was seeking global free trade regulations. The World Trade Organization (WTO), founded April 15, 1994 and beginning to function January 1, 1995, established the framework for relevant negotiations. Serious talks on a transatlantic free trade agreement have appeared again on the agenda since the 2006 collapse of the Doha Round free trade talks. During the German EU Council Presidency, a Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) was founded April 30, 2007, on Berlin's initiative. However, its work is only making hesitant progress.

Still Little Substance

The TEC's essential task is to intensify economic cooperation between the EU and the USA, including the abolition of customs. However, in comparison with international customs, those between the US and Europe are rather low. The German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) points out that it would be more important to make the different "quality and safety requirements of goods and services" uniform. "Standards must be harmonized, mutually recognized, or, with new technologies, developed in common."[1] Alone due to the elimination of customs duties, according to the calculations made by the US Chamber of Commerce, trade between the USA and the EU, could increase by more than US $120 billion within a period of five years. Annual costs due to varying standards, according to the SWP, are also in the billions, which, in principle, could be eliminated. In November 2011, because no progress had been made, the TEC named a "EU - US High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth" to work out comprehensive propositions by November 2012. Berlin considered the interim report, presented by the "Working Group" in June, to contain "little of substance."

Atlantic vs. Pacific

Berlin is now pushing for a quick agreement, because the US Secretary of State announced last autumn that Washington is refocusing its foreign policy priorities from the Atlantic to the Pacific, where the intensification of the struggle for influence against the People's Republic of China is imminent. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[2]) The German government has reacted with the expansion of its own activities in Asia,[3] while simultaneously insuring its alliance with the USA in global policy. As the German Foreign Minister expressed in a signed article in the immediate prelude to the US presidential elections, "the new US president's first visit to Europe following the elections, should be used" to "put the transatlantic free trade zone project on track."[4] This serves not only economic - of course, extremely advantageous, in the aggravating global rivalry - added profits, but "the reinforcement and expansion of the basis of our common interests." This declaration is aimed at the long-term comprehensive consolidation of the transatlantic economic block, as the foundation of a common global policy presence of the West.

What Washington can learn from Berlin

Foreign Minister Westerwelle leaves no doubt: the Western alliance must take central German demands into full account, for example, a "constructive balance" with Russia in spite of Moscow not being "an easy partner." This formulation is aimed at safeguarding the German-Russian cooperation, largely rejected in the US. Some US-Americans see Russia as a declining power that no longer poses a threat. Westerwelle demands a rapid "revival of US efforts" to reach "a globally binding agreement to tackle climate change."[5] This has to be seen in the context of Germany's efforts to acquire new markets for its eco-industry.[6] The German Foreign Minister also declared that Berlin's austerity policy in the battle against the Euro crisis should serve as a model for the United States. Over the past few months, the US government has expressed angry criticism of the German austerity dictates, because these threaten to lead Europe into a recession, thereby endangering the global economy.[7] In a recent interview, when asked what "Washington can learn from Berlin" Westerwelle claimed that "many Americans have been respectfully following the successful economic history written by us Germans over the past three years," adding "growth comes from increased competiveness."[8]

The Most Important Partner in Europe

The German Foreign Minister has made his imposing public declaration based on Berlin's claim of still being Washington's most important partner in Europe. The foreign ministry points to the fact that although the Federal Republic of Germany is but the fifth-largest investor in the United States, it remains its largest European trading partner. Just recently, Harald Leibrecht (FDP), coordinator of the German Foreign Ministry's transatlantic cooperation section, succinctly summed up Berlin's attitude: in the USA, "Germany is currently seen as the most important partner in Europe."[9] But Leibrecht cannot deny the fact that the United States is turning more strongly toward Eastern Asia and that "a tendency" can be discerned, wherein "a decreasing number of US politicians are interested in Germany." Berlin hopes that the transatlantic free trade zone, claimed to possess the potential for consolidating the "basis of common interests," can counteract this dwindling significance.

[1] Sabine Mair, Stormy-Annika Mildner: Im Schneckentempo zur vertieften transatlantischen Wirtschaftsintegration, www.swp-berlin.org 06.07.2012
[2] see also Das pazifische Jahrhundert
[3] see also Das Kraftwerk der Weltwirtschaft
[4], [5] Worauf wir gemeinsam bauen: Europa und der nächste US-Präsident; Frankfurter Rundschau 03.11.2012
[6] see also Die Klimaschutz-Gewinner, Industry of the Future and Abstiegskämpfe
[7] see also In der Gefahrenzone and Wie Preußen im Reich
[8] Gespräche über transatlantische Freihandelszone aufnehmen; Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung 27.10.2012
[9] "Deutschland wird als der wichtigste Partner in Europa gesehen"; www.auswaertiges-amt.de 03.09.2012