Over 100 German and US entrepreneurs, economists and politicians met in Washington, DC this week for three days of talks on the future of the transatlantic marketplace.
Will improving political ties between Berlin and Washington rub off on business too?
Organized by the Federation of German Industries (BDI) and the US Chamber of Commerce, the debate centered on questions of deregulation, harmonization of industrial standards and norms, and improving access to transatlantic markets.
The transatlantic economic network is one of the most robust trade and investment systems in the world, with the EU and the US alternating top positions in the trade statistics.
Over 17 percent of all EU export is earmarked for the US, while in turn, over 20 percent of EU imports originate in the US. Even the newly industrializing nations have done little to dent the flourishing of transatlantic trade -- which makes up over 50 percent of the international total.
Engine for stability
Lockheed Martin is based on both sides of the Atlantic
Steven Martin is European Director of Lockheed Martin, the world's biggest defense contractor. He described the conference as an exercise in finding common ground.
"For the last 50 years the German and American economies have been the drivers and engines for stability and prosperity throughout the world," he stressed. "What we discussed in the last few days was how to continue to strengthen those common values, common structures and common visions and how to reinforce them with innovation."
Participants split into work groups to discuss four main economic areas -- the automotive industry, the chemical and pharmaceuticals industry, the biotech industry and the telecommunications industry.
"The tenacity of transatlantic ties is outstanding, even during the Iraq war," said one participant, FDP politician Wolfgang Gerhardt. "And not only when it comes to trade flow, but also in terms of investment. No other continents are so interlinked. We each have a vested interest in each other's well being."
Hartmut Schauerte, parliamentary state secretary at the economics ministry, was quick to point out that the conference reflected the government's current efforts to boost transatlantic ties, particularly with respect to certain issues such as the call for effective protection of intellectual property in China.
"A conference is scheduled in Beijing this April in which we will be addressing, with our Chinese colleagues, questions like these. Both Germany and the US consider the issue a top priority," said Schauerte.
No to protectionism
One of the ports affected by the controversial hand-over
Another conclusion reached during the talks was a fervent rejection of the recent rise in protectionism seen on both sides of the Atlantic. Last month, US Congress blocked the takeover of six key US ports and shipping group P&O to Dubai Ports World, triggering widespread controversy.
"It was a worrying development," said Gerhardt. "It was a clear mistake on the part of the political leadership. The Bush administration could have deflected the issue if only it didn't see every single issue as a security risk to the US, but upheld what it says it believes in, which is namely free trade, a market place -- and which is also a basic European principle. But we've seen similar developments in many of our neighboring countries here in Europe, where there have been numerous attempts to build walls, block international mergers, and render entire industries uncompetitive." After all, the backbone of the transatlantic relationship is made up of multinationals such as Daimler-Chrysler, Ford, Pfizer and Deutsche Telekom, to name just a few. They're based on both sides of the Atlantic.