Interview with Ambassador Gardner (Handelsblatt 3/11/2016): “We are making progress”

By Nicole Bastian | Handelsblatt no. 050 3/11/2016

Washington’s Ambassador to the EU wants to explain T-TIP better.

After the twelfth round of negotiations on T-TIP, the free trade agreement that has proven unpopular in lots of places, Gardner is traveling around Germany to do some persuading.  Talking to Handelsblatt in Düsseldorf, this proved a topic that was close to his heart.

Q:  Mr. Gardner, why is there so much resistance to T-TIP here of all places, with Germany being the biggest exporting nation in Europe?

A:  That took us by surprise at first, too.  All the statistics suggest that Germany would benefit more from T-TIP than any other European economy.  And Europe as a whole needs this agreement as a stimulus package that won’t add new debt. But I understand the concerns – not just about the United States, but also about this idea that the elites, Brussels, the government apparatus, and big projects [like this] will change people’s lives.  But let’s look at the progress we have made so far.

Q:  Such as?

A:  When I came to Brussels two years ago, data privacy was all we talked about. We had just signed a data privacy agreement. In the twelfth round of negotiations on T-TIP, we have made significant progress on regulatory questions.  We looked at substantial proposals on issues like intellectual property, customs and trade facilitation, work, and the environment. The commotion about investor protection [i.e., ISDS] is calming down.  We believe we still have a chance to complete the agreement before the current U.S. administration leaves office at noon on January 20, 2017.

Q:  But there is this emotional and combative attitude towards T-TIP that has developed among the German population. How are you planning to ease those concerns?

A:  We have to do a better job here by talking differently about T-TIP – for instance by giving examples instead of citing statistics.  Yesterday, I visited [the company] Pfeilring in Solingen [in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia].  The managing director told me it would clearly benefit from T-TIP.  And his is just one of the many German small and medium-sized businesses [that would benefit from TTIP].  Pfeilring currently has to pay a seven percent customs duty on scissors and other products it exports to the U.S.And they have to get their products certified twice.  So it’s not true that only big companies would benefit from T-TIP.

Q:  Are German politicians doing enough to support T-TIP?

A:  Definitely. We feel good with the support we are seeing, including from the European Council.  But this support at the highest levels of government now needs to trickle down to industry, especially to the SMEs. The entrepreneurs have to be able to explain to their workers why they should welcome this deal.  Maybe that’s what we’ve been missing.

Q:  And the Vice Chancellor [Sigmar Gabriel]?

A:  He is very supportive as well. He changed his mind about ISDS, for example.

Q:  The EU Commission just proposed a system of public courts that would be responsible for investor protection charges.Will the U.S. side accept these proposals?

A:  I can’t tell yet. We only received the proposals a few weeks ago and are still looking into them. But it is a significant step forward.

Q:  In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge for Europe?  A Grexit [Greece leaving the EU]? A Brexit [The UK leaving the EU]? Refugees?

A:  The biggest problem is the lack of solidarity.  The project of the European Union and the [associated] EU institutions can only work if there is a feeling of common purpose and mutual solidarity and responsibility. But that’s threatened. In the U.S. as well as in the EU, we would hope that this spirit of shared solidarity stays strong in these troubling times.  Members should no longer benefit from solidarity without demonstrating solidarity themselves.

Q:  Back to T-TIP: Neither the Democratic nor the Republican presidential candidates show much support for free trade…

A:  I cannot speculate about who will be sitting in the White House after January 20th. But if Hillary Clinton wins, we can be sure that she will support free trade and T-TIP, as she has done before.  And the Republicans are traditionally in favor of free trade.  Republican votes helped Congress pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) [sic] and gave the President Trade Promotion Authority. That should reassure us.

Q:  So you believe progress is possible with a new president?

A:  It wouldn’t be the first time in history that a government takes over free trade negotiations from the previous government. But it would take a long time to make that a priority. That’s why it is essential to make maximum progress by January.

Q:  What is it like to be representing a country whose [leading] Republican candidate wants to build a wall on the Mexican border, who decries Europe as socialist, and is very provocative in general?

A:  All that counts is what happens on Election Day. In the United States and in Europe, we currently see the same phenomenon: An estimate of 20 to 25 percent of the population in the U.S. feel frustrated, alienated, and left behind by globalization.  And they don’t have the impression that politicians are listening to them. Winston Churchill once said: You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.

Q:  Ambassador, thank you very much for this interview.