Only a few weeks ago, the parliamentary opposition demanded an end to negotiations for free trade with the United States because of revelations over NSA spying.
Already their demands are proving shortsighted. Recent foreign-policy crises in Ukraine and Iraq demonstrate the obvious: Germany, Europe and the United States must remain allies.
In the heated debate we are having in Europe over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, critics sometimes overlook the fact that free trade is a guarantee of peace and prosperity. In Europe, economic cooperation has reduced mistrust among nations. Trade contributes to the peace project we call “Europe” – and Germany has especially prospered because of that domestic market.
The United States is among Germany’s most important trading partners. But varying regulations that govern products raise the costs of trade. In order to comply with U.S. standards and European CE certification, every single screw used in a machine must be adapted.
Many mid-sized companies in my home state of Baden-Württemberg would like to sell products overseas, but it’s not worth altering every individual component. If the United States and Europe recognize their norms reciprocally, then more high-quality products could be sold at more favorable prices.
The impact of free trade across the Atlantic could be enormous – 20,000 new jobs in Baden-Württemberg alone, plus new sales of €119 billion ($154 billion) each year in Europe and €95 billion ($123 billion) in the United States. And it doesn’t cost anything.
Contrast that with the euro zone’s growth pact, which in 2012 cost €130 billion, or about $168 billion. How can it be that, years after the financial crisis, we still opt for artificial and debt-financed growth even though there are alternatives? As market economies, we should be able to build prosperity through innovation and trade. The transatlantic trade treaty would help us do that.
The passionate debate over free trade is important. But what I find lacking is openness about the issues. It’s not true, as critics insist, that protests and calls for exceptions have been shoved aside by negotiators. In all sensitive issues, the European Commission has set stipulations to assure European approval.
That includes Europe’s high levels of protection for food, public support of culture and workers’ rights. As chief negotiator, the European Commission knows that its member states won’t accept lower standards – especially since the treaty likely would have to be approved by Germany’s parliament too.
A more open viewpoint is needed at a time when China and all of Asia are increasing their economies enormously. If 500 million Europeans and 300 million Americans conduct free trade with each other, the free world grows closer together. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership offers the opportunity to deepen our friendly relationships – especially in these turbulent times.
Thomas Strobl is head of the Christian Democratic Union in Baden-Württemberg. To contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org.