Angela Merkel is canvassing Germans to support the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership ahead of June's G7 summit. In a wide-ranging interview, the chancellor said she hoped it would be cemented by 2017.
In an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung published Saturday, Merkel said she wanted an accord between the EU and US on TTIP before President Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017. The trade and investment agreement aims to create greater access to European markets for American goods, strengthen ties between the two regions and increase economic growth, among other goals.
"It's important for me that the trans-Atlantic free trade keeps pace with the Pacific region," Merkel said, referring to separate trade talks between the US and Asian nations. Twelve countries - including the US, Japan, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand - are negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Opposition to TTIP has run strong in Germany, even though the country's powerful export-oriented industrial sector stands to benefit greatly. Many in Europe fear that US multinational companies will use a possible investor protection clause to challenge EU food, labor and environmental laws on the grounds that they restrict free commerce.
"There's a concern whether our social and ecological standards will stay in place," Merkel said. However, she added: "The United States is one of our most important trade partners."
Officials expect TTIP talks to continue at the June 7 and 8 annual meeting of the Group of 7 of the world's most industrialized nations: France, Italy, the UK, Japan, the US, Canada and Germany. As Germany holds the rotating G7 presidency this year, pre-talks are being held among finance ministers and central bankers in Dresden this week.
Merkel also addressed the scandal surrounding Germany's federal intelligence service, the BND. The chancellor has been dogged for weeks by claims the BND spied on EU officials, companies and individuals on behalf of the US National Security Agency (NSA) - and there have been questions of how much Merkel's office knew.
Asked if she allowed officials to lie, Merkel said, "Naturally not." In 2013, the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden had revealed that the US watched EU officials - including possibly Merkel herself - and the chancellor's administration has been under pressure to reach a no-spy agreement with the US.
Belgium and the Netherlands launched probes into the espionage claims, officials said Friday. Reported BND-NSA targets included the French government, European Commission and Airbus Group.
The interview runs at the end of a busy week for Merkel.
On Friday alone, she spoke with Francois Hollande and Vladimir Putin - respectively, the French and Russian presidents - about Ukraine's civil war, commented on the ongoing FIFA corruption scandal, and met with David Cameron to see how the EU could help the UK prime minister avoid a democratic "Brexit."
mkg/jr (Reuters, AFP, dpa)