Analysis: did Germany just pull the plug on Obama’s European trade deal?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2016, 10:12am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2016, 10:25pm

US President Barack Obama has long envisioned leaving office with two trade deals in place: the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Asian nations, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with Europe. Both now seem slated to fail.

On Sunday, German Economic Minister and vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, said that TTIP talks between the US and EU have essentially fallen apart.

“In my opinion, the negotiations with the United States have de facto failed, even though nobody is really admitting it,” Gabriel said during a question-and-answer session with citizens in Berlin. He added that after 14 rounds of talks, the two sides haven’t agreed on one common item out of 27 chapters being discussed.

With the Trans-Pacific Partnership all but dead, what next now for world trade?

“We mustn’t submit to the American proposals,” said Gabriel, who also heads Germany’s centre-left Social Democratic Party.

Chief EU negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero, asked Monday about Gabriel’s comments, said: “No, no. Remember what Mark Twain said,” referring to the American author’s comment that reports of his death were exaggerated.

And Margaritis Schinas, chief spokesperson for the European commission, added Monday, “Provided the conditions are right, the commission stands ready to close this deal by the end of the year,” but he cautioned negotiators would not sacrifice Europeans’ “safety, health, social and data protection standards or our cultural diversity” to reach a deal with the United States.

Gabriel’s comments don’t exactly come as a surprise. TTIP has never been popular in Germany. Politicians there are calling for protests against the deal ahead of general elections slated for September 17.

According to Mujtaba Rahman, the head of practice for Europe at the Eurasia Group, the pact has been dying a slow death since Britain decided to leave the EU in June.

“The Brits were really the only champions of TTIP in the EU, and with them now heading for the door, it’s going to significantly drop in priority over the coming years,” Rahman said. “For Merkel, the key challenge is to show that Europe can work for its citizens and for now, that means addressing the risks thrown up by terrorism, open borders and youth unemployment. TTIP doesn’t sit well with this narrative.”

Now, instead of securing a wide-reaching trade pact between the United States and Europe as a farewell present, Obama will have to wait to see if TTIP ever gets done. And his dreams of a similar deal in Asia is also suffering a slow agony. Both presidential candidates say they oppose the TPP, and there aren’t enough votes in Congress to push the pact through in the lame duck session after the election.