How TTIP Reached a Tipping Point

Proponents of the U.S.-E.U. trade deal were caught unawares by the vehement public opposition in Germany. Activists here say that their beef is not so much with removing tariffs as with the other elements of the deal. And they say they are gaining support in other E.U. countries.

Handelsblatt Global, April 22, 2016

“Obama and Merkel are coming. Demo: Stop TTIP and CETA!”

That is the slogan being spread through social media and on posters across Germany. It is intended to rally the troops to Hanover this Saturday on the eve of a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Organizers estimate tens of thousands will amass to protest the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal between the European Union and the United States, and its Canadian counterpart, called CETA.

Mr. Obama’s visit to open the Hannover Messe trade fair alongside Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday is regarded as part of an efforts to kickstart TTIP ahead of the 13th round of negotiations next week in New York.

While it may be one of the United State’s best trading partners in Europe, Mr. Obama is entering hostile territory in Germany.

Along with Austria, the European country has the least enthusiasm for and the most skepticism about the all-encompassing trade deal, according to polls.

Last October, despite the country being gripped by the refugee crisis, an anti-TTIP rally in Berlin drew 150,000 to 250,000 people, depending on whether you accept the official count or the demo organizers’ numbers.

The anti-TTIP movement is hoping for another big turnout on Saturday.

“There is nothing in the agreement about raising standards, and that is exactly the problem. In the future it will be even harder to strengthen or raise standards.”

Thilo Bode, Director, Foodwatch

“We are expecting several tens of thousands,” said Roland Süss, a trade expert with activist group ATTAC, which has 90,000 members in Europe. The group’s members typically are vocal critics of the excesses of conventional capitalism, strong defenders of the environment and opponents of government privatization efforts.

Yet the thousands planning to meet in Hanover are only the tip of the iceberg in Germany.

A survey released Thursday in Berlin showed that only one in five Germans think TTIP is a good thing, down from 55 percent in 2014.

The poll by YouGov for the Bertelsmann Foundation, found that while two years ago 88 percent of Germans favored free trade in general, by February only about half of Germans considered free trade a good idea. More than a quarter reject it entirely.

“Support for trade agreements is fading in a country that views itself as the global export champion. Trade is a key driver of the German economy,” Aart De Geus, head of the Bertelsmann Foundation, said.

For those backing the deal, it is a conundrum that people in a country that relies on and benefits from global trade would want to block a deal like this.

After all, Germany prides itself on being an “Export Meister.” It is the world’s third-largest exporter with €1.2 trillion worth of goods and services traded abroad in 2015.

And trade ties with the United States are a big part of that. The United States is the biggest buyer of German exports outside the E.U., and Germany is the U.S.’s most important trading partner in Europe. At the end of 2015, bilateral trade was worth approximately $174 billion, according to the German Foreign Office.

Proponents argue TTIP will only enhance those ties, creating growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.

But many non-profits, political groups and trade unions, which have led the charge against the deal, question those assertions and argue it’s not free trade per se they are opposed to.

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