With TTIP All But Abandoned, Obama and Merkel Argue ‘Cooperation is Now More Urgent Than Ever’

By James Carstensen | November 17, 2016 | 6:20pm EST
President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel leave after their joint news conference at the German Chancellery in Berlin, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Berlin (CNSNews.com) – On his final foreign tour as president, President Barack Obama reflected here on his close “partnership” with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and warned about attempts to return to a “pre-globalization economy.”

“Simply put: we are stronger when we work together,” Obama and Merkel wrote in a joint editorial published Thursday. “At a time when the global economy is evolving more quickly than at any point in human history, and the scope of global challenges has never had higher stakes, such cooperation is now more urgent than ever.”

Unlike previous visits, Obama’s farewell tour did not include any public appearances or speeches. Instead, he was interviewed by German public broadcaster ARD and Spiegel magazine on Wednesday morning, before meeting with Merkel in the afternoon.

Security was nevertheless tight, with some 5,000 additional police officers stationed for the visit.

The low-key trip contrasts sharply to his first visit, when then-Senator Obama visited Berlin during his campaign for the White House in 2008, greeted by a crowd of 200,000 and drawing parallels to John F. Kennedy’s celebrated 1963 visit.

Obama has maintained a close working relationship with Merkel during the course of his two terms. He praised the chancellor and her “democratic values,” hailing her open-door response to the migrant and refugee crisis and her firm stance on Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

“I think the German people should appreciate her,” he said in the joint interview with ARD and Spiegel. “Certainly, I’ve appreciated her as a partner.”

Obama also called Merkel “perhaps the only leader left among our closest allies that was there when I arrived.” (Of the G8 leaders who met in Italy for their annual summit in 2009, Merkel and Obama are the only two remaining.)

In the joint op-ed, published in Wirtschaftswoche, Obama and Merkel advocated the importance of continued trade relations in the midst of a growing populist climate.

“We realize that decisions in one country have tangible effects in others. To meet all these challenges, we need rules that are currently being negotiated in the framework of TTIP,“ the joint statement said, in reference to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership free-trade pact. 

Yet despite those sentiments, on Thursday afternoon Merkel announced during a press conference that the trade deal negotiations would not go on.

“I have always been strongly engaged for a conclusion of a trade deal with the United States. We have made a lot of progress on the negotiations, but it will not be concluded now,” she said.

Merkel added the she was “quite certain, we will one day come back to it.”

The E.U. and U.S. launched negotiations for the TTIP in 2013, but failed to seal the deal during the remaining time of Obama's second term. The E.U. Commission placed negotiations on hold after President-elect Donald Trump’s election victory.

The U.S. has become Germany's most important trading partner, with a trade volume of 173 billion euros (US$185 billion).

There are concerns here about the future of international agreements under the next U.S. president. While campaigning, Trump promised to tear up free trade deals, and “cancel” the Paris climate agreement and funding for U.N. global warming programs.

Still, not all Germans have approved of Obama’s policies. His failure to close the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, increased use of drones (with sometimes significant collateral damage) and the 2013 revelation that the National Security Agency wiretapped Merkel’s phone all drew sharp criticism over the years.

Most significantly Obama has drawn criticism from many Germans who oppose the TTIP. His last visit, to a trade fair in Hannover in April, was met with large protests. Further large anti-TTIP protests were held in seven German cities in September.

“Today we find ourselves at a crossroads – the future is upon us, and we will never return to a pre-globalization economy.” Obama and Merkel wrote.  “We owe it to our industries and our peoples – indeed, to the global community – to broaden and deepen our cooperation.”

On Friday morning, Obama was scheduled to return to hold talks here with Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and British Prime Minister Theresa May. On the agenda: the relationship between the U.S. and the E.U.

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