German economics minister Sigmar Gabriel's comment that the TTIP agreement between the U.S. and the EU is 'de facto dead' was a cheap move to save his own skin, writes Henrik Böhme, DW's economics editor.
An array of strange bedfellows are planning to gather in Berlin on September 17 for a major demonstration against TTIP and Ceta, the free-trade agreement between Canada and the European Union. Church groups, NGOs, social welfare organizations and even the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party are jumping on the anti-TTIP bandwagon. Yet they can save themselves the trouble and stay home. TTIP is dead. At least for the foreseeable future, said Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's minister for economic affairs and vice chancellor - and the first representative of government to speak out against it.
Gabriel is also the head of the Social Democrats (SPD), the party to be most jostled by the left on free-trade issues. However, he has already come out in favor of Ceta, leaving only TTIP to score political points with in this election season.
The jobs minister
Gabriel is the minister fighting for German jobs. That was his excuse for recently allowing the merger of Edeka/Kaisers-Tengelmann, two huge supermarket chains, which raised serious antitrust red flags and is currently being reviewed by the highest German court. Now, however, in regards to a free-trade agreement with one of Germany's most important trading partners, the jobs factor doesn't seem to play as important a role for the economics minister of one of the world's most important export nations.
How dishonest can Gabriel be?
Neither the fervent opposition nor Gabriel himself can take credit for the demise of TTIP. The minister blames the U.S., and he may have a point. Donald Trump is steadfastly against it, and even Hillary Clinton is lukewarm, given opposition to free trade from within her party -- namely from the Bernie Sanders camp.
Short end of the globalization stick
This is the core problem: Many Americans – especially supporters of both Trump and Sanders – see themselves as victims of globalization. German opponents, too, are not really against free-trade agreements, but for a fairer form of globalization. The losers in many western countries feel abandoned, which stokes the flames of populism and brings calls for protectionism. Production can return to rich nations thanks to technology making certain processes cheaper to do here than in low-wage countries – but with machines, not people. Adidas, for example, doesn't need Vietnamese workers to make its sneakers, but can with robots in Germany.
What's the alternative?
A world free of free trade is a scary thought. What would that mean for developing countries, emerging markets in flux and export countries like Germany? With TTIP dead, what takes its place? Isolation for Europe and a return to economic crisis – the worst of all conceivable scenarios.