‘Time for US-German leadership’? Obama, Merkel pushing EU into unpopular TTIP free trade deal

U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend the opening ceremony of the Hannover Messe in Hanover, Germany April 24, 2016. © Nigel Treblin
US President Barack Obama wants to complete talks on a US-EU free trade deal before his term ends in January. However, while he enjoyed the warm support of German Chancellor Merkel in Hannover, public support for the highly secretive deal is waning.

“I don’t anticipate that we will be able to complete ratification of a deal by the end of this year, but I do anticipate that we will have completed the agreement,” Obama said at the industrial trade fair in Hannover during a Sunday briefing with Angela Merkel.

The US president warned that time was ticking, claiming that things would become unpredictable once he is out of office.

“If we don’t complete negotiations this year, then upcoming political transitions in the United States and Europe could mean this agreement won’t be finished for quite some time,” Obama said, hinting at Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s opposition to the deal.

“We must ask ourselves: What is the cost of delay?” Obama’s commerce secretary, Penny Pritzker, said earlier while trying to sell an audience of 350 business leaders on TTIP, the New York Times reported.

She added that “now is the time for US-German leadership.”

Obama received a very cozy welcome from Merkel in Hannover on Sunday. The US president is currently on a visit to Europe to promote the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), in what appears to be a desperate push to complete free trade talks with the EU before his term ends on January 20. In February, Obama managed to seal a similarly secretive deal between twelve Pacific Rim nations called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but that deal still has to be ratified by its signatory states.

Obama’s talks with Merkel were sidetracked by other issues, including Syria, Ukraine, and Libya.

Nevertheless, Merkel expressed support for Obama’s call to speed things up. “We should get a move on,” she said at the world’s largest industrial trade fair in Hannover. “We all know the reproaches, worries and fears, and what difficulties remain.”

Merkel argued that the trade deal would boost current living standards. “So my request to those who are present” is “Do it, and then we can have a great success this year,” she concluded.

Another round of talks scheduled for Monday will also include British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

TTIP’s goal is to create the largest free trade zone in the world by reducing trade barriers between the US and European Union.

The trade deal has been strongly opposed by Europeans, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets in Germany, Belgium, and Spain in protest.

Activists fear that the agreement will lower social, consumer, and environmental standards across the EU, arguing that it will benefit large corporations at the expense of average Europeans.

TTIP opponents are taking an especially harsh stance against genetically modified (GM) crops, as the deal could allow US companies to bypass EU regulations and sell GM products in Europe.

Critics also say the treaty would erode strict European labor standards and environmental protections by putting the interest of international corporations above those of the nations they operate in.

Tens of thousands of TTIP opponents rallied in Hannover on Saturday ahead of President Obama’s arrival.

READ MORE: ‘Campaigners are key to getting secret TPP and TTIP trade deals published’

Another criticism of those opposed to the deal has been that negotiations over the deal were largely carried out in a secretive and undemocratic way, raising concerns that private data, public services, and even democracy itself could be threatened by the unaccountable power of big US capital.

Public support for the transatlantic trade deal has been on the decline, largely due to how little is known about how it would impact ordinary EU citizens.

According to a recent survey conducted by pollsters YouGov on behalf of the Bertelsmann Foundation, only 17 percent of Germans think that TTIP is a good thing, down from 55 percent two years ago. In the United States, only 18 percent of the population now supports the deal, compared to 53 percent in 2014.

On the other hand, proponents of the deal maintain that it will boost GDP in the EU by €100 billion ($110 billion) and in the US by more than $100 billion. They also claim it will create over 700,000 jobs in the US.

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks has been offering €100,000 reward for documents revealing the details of TTIP.

The whistleblowing platform has already leaked chapters of Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) in the past, including sections on intellectual property rights, the environment, and investment.