German Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said on Monday that an EU-US trade agreement would not mean lower standards for Europe. Gabriel had invited EU and US trade representatives for a meeting in Berlin.
Gabriel said the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) - a free trade pact between the US and the EU - presented an opportunity to shape global trade. "A transatlantic agreement should and must set new standards for a globalized economy."
He pointed out that German carmakers alone could save 1 billion euros through lower tariffs.
EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht also sought to assure people that "there will be an agreement that will be enormously useful while upholding our respective values and principles." He said the planned pact would not undermine environmental, consumer or data protection standards.
Some consumer and environmental groups, who also attended Monday's gathering, are worried that a free-trade agreement would water down EU regulatory norms. US Trade Representative Michael Froman, who was also in Berlin on Monday, assured delegates that there would be no lowering of standards.
Let's be open
Critics have also pointed to the secrecy surrounding the negotiations. Gabriel was keen to make that point on Monday, saying that "in democracies, we cannot and must not have secret negotiations." He said he would make sure that both the EU and the national parliaments were involved in the process.
Gabriel again rejected calls for the talks, which would create the largest free-trade area in the world, to be suspended.
The TTIP would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, while also largely abolishing trade tariffs. Companies are also hoping that the agreement would harmonize environmental, security and other industrial standards that currently vary from country to country leading to extra work and costs.
ng/sri (AFP, dpa, Reuters)