German Foreign Minister Gabriel talks up NAFTA and free, fair trade in Mexico

In the week that the US President began the process of overhauling the NAFTA trade accord, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has spoken in favor of free and fair trade. Germany is Mexico’s main EU trading partner.

Watch video00:32

German FM Gabriel backs NAFTA in Mexico visit

After a visit to the US this week, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel crossed the border into Mexico to speak in favor of free and fair trade.

“In our view the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is an agreement that doesn’t just serve Canada and Mexico, but also the United States,” Gabriel said at a news conference with his Mexican counterpart, Luis Videgaray, on Friday.

Mexiko Gabriel und Videgaray Caso in Mexiko-Stadt (picture alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka)Sigmar Gabriel with his Mexican counterpart Luis Videgaray Caso

NAFTA was set up in 1994 and encouraged multinationals to set up factories in Mexico, the US and Canada, taking advantage of the opportunity to sell products across the free trade area which links 450 million people.

“So we’re trying, also via our visits to the United States, to make clear that a fair agreement isn’t just in the interests of German companies, but also the United States of America,” the minister commented.

AM @sigmargabriel nach Gespräch mit MEX AM @LVidegaray: Wollen uns gemeinsam für die Idee des fairen+freien Welthandels einsetzen.

Both Mexico and Germany run trade surpluses with the United States. In 2016 they both reached more than $60 billion (53 billion euros), according to US data.

Trump has threatened aggressive measures to eliminate the deficit.

In an interview with German newspaper Bild, then-President-elect Trump said in January he would aim to realign Germany’s “out of balance” car trade with the US.

“If you go down Fifth Avenue, everyone has a Mercedes Benz in front of his house, isn’t that the case?” Trump asked in the interview. “How many Chevrolets do you see in Germany? Not very many, maybe none at all … it’s a one-way street.”

Gabriel was asked at the time what Trump could do to encourage German buyers to favor more American cars. He suggested “build better cars.”

Infografik Autoindustrie Mexiko ENGLISCH

Concern for the future

Speaking on Friday, Gabriel told reporters in Mexico City that German firms were concerned about the future of the accord. He urged the US to recognize the benefits NAFTA had brought.

Germany is Mexico’s principal trading partner in the European Union and more than 1,900 companies with German interests, mainly in the automotive and automotive suppliers industries, are registered with the Economics Ministry, according to the Federal Foreign Office. Mexico is a priority country for German cultural relations and education policy and all of Germany’s major cultural organisations are active there.

Multi-issue Chancellor’s visit

Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to visit Mexico within the coming weeks to discuss trade but also the protection of human rights, press freedom and the challenge of organized crime.

This week, Salvador Adame Pardo, founder and director of Canal 6 Media TV, was kidnapped in the state of Michoacan where he had been working for more than 20 years. His family said he had been receiving threats for some time.

This followed the killings of Mexican journalists Javier Valdez y Jonathan Rodríguez just a few days before.

3rd Mexican journalist attacked this week: Salvador Adame Pardo, Michoacán station owner, journalist, kidnapped now http://www.univision.com/noticias/america-latina/secuestran-al-periodista-mexicano-salvador-adame-pardo-en-michoacan 

Photo published for Secuestran al periodista mexicano Salvador Adame Pardo en Michoacán

Secuestran al periodista mexicano Salvador Adame Pardo en Michoacán

La desaparición del comunicador ocurre a unos días de que el presidente Enrique Peña Nieto anunció el incremento de medidas de protección para la prensa mexicana.

univision.com

jm/gsw (EFE, Reuters)

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Trump’s woes at home mount as he travels abroad

As President Donald Trump arrived in Saudi Arabia for his first foreign tour, US media reports have kept the focus on his White House and relations to Russia. Senators say fired FBI head Comey will testify in Congress.

Donald Trump, Melania Trump (picture alliance/AP Photo/E.Vucci)

The New York Times has reported that President Trump told Russian officials that his firing of former FBI Director James Comey had eased “great pressure” Trump faced.

The newspaper cited a document detailing the White House meeting Trump held with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador to Washington in the Oval Office the day after he fired Comey.

“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said on May 10, according to the paper. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

The New York Times cited an unnamed US official as its source for receiving the comments, which had been taken down in notes summarizing the meeting.

Other news reports have alleged Trump had previously asked Comey to stop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. On Thursday, the Justice Department said a special counsel had been appointed to look into allegations of Russian interference in last year’s election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign.

USA Richard Burr Senator (Getty Images/G. Demczuk)Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr

Comey has agreed to testify before the Senate intelligence committee, although a date has not yet been set, according to the committee’s chairman, Senator Richard Burr.

Burr said on Friday the former FBI director would testify in an open setting before the committee which wanted to know from Comey about his role in the assessment Russia interfered in last year’s election and his response to questions that have arisen since his dismissal.

White House response

In response to the latest reports on Friday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer again rejected the allegations and said, “A thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity.”

Spicer said of the former FBI director: “by grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia.”

USA Donald Trump und James Comey (Getty Images/A. Harrer)President Trump with former FBI Director James Comey in January

A person of interest

In a separate news report on Friday, the Washington Post claimed that a senior White House adviser was a person of significant interest in the investigation into possible ties between Trump’s election campaign and Russia.

The Post said the source of its information would not further identify the official, who was described as being a person close to Trump. The report claimed the investigation appeared to be entering a more open and active phase, with investigators conducting interviews and using a grand jury to issue subpoenas.

The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson all have acknowledged contacts with Russian officials.

Capitol reaction

House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in response to the reports “every day the president gives us more reason to believe that he does not respect the office that he holds.” She expressed optimism ahead of 2018 midterm elections, which could return Democrats back to control of the House.

Elijah Cummings, the senior Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said the panel should request White House documents related to the May 10 meeting and subpoena them if necessary. Cummings called Trump’s reported comment “astonishing and extremely troubling.”

Trump himself left Washington on Friday for his first international trip, beginning in Saudi Arabia. Air Force One took off with the president, first lady Melania Trump, his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as well as senior advisers and journalists. The group will then travel to Israel, the Vatican, Brussels and Sicily.

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President Trump declares US withdrawal from TPP trade pact

The new US president has signed an executive order to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 12 Asian countries, warning US businesses that they face penalties if they moved production outside the country.

USA steigen aus Transpazifik-Handelsabkommen aus (Reuters/K. Lamarque)

Donald Trump has started to unravel the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal with Asia he inherited from his predecessor, as he signed an executive order on Monday to withdraw from the negotiating process. The new US president had vowed during his election campaign to withdraw the US from TPP which he argued was harmful to American workers and manufacturing.

The TPP was negotiated under former President Barack Obama, but never ratified by Congress. Trump’s withdrawal from it will not have an immediate effect on US economic policies, although it does signal a new and very different American outlook on trade under the Trump administration.

‘Border tax’ threat

Earlier on Monday, Donald Trump also reiterated threats to impose a significant “border tax” on companies that move production of products outside of the US to other countries.

Watch video01:43

How far will Trump’s protectionism go?

During a meeting in Washington, he told the chief executives of Ford, Dow Chemical, Dell Technologies, and Tesla that companies were welcome to negotiate with governors to move production between US states. But those businesses that choose to move factories abroad would pay a price.

“We are going to be imposing a very major border tax on the product when it comes in,” the US president warned, adding: “A company that wants to fire all of its people in the United States, and build some factory someplace else, and then thinks that that product is going to just flow across the border into the United States – that’s not going to happen.”

Carrot and stick

At the same meeting, however, Trump said he would seek to cut corporate taxes to the 15 to 20 percent range – down from current statutory levels of 35 percent.

In addition, the new US president promised to cut regulations, saying business leaders had told him that reducing those was “even more important.”

“We think we can cut regulations by 75 percent. Maybe more,” he told business leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

Trump said that regulations regarding worker safety would be “just as strong” and “just as protective of the people,” adding that current regulations, however, “make it impossible to get anything built.”

He also said he planned to hold meetings with American CEOs on a quarterly basis or whenever they wanted to in order to address their concerns.

uhe/mds (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

 

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IMF members drop pledge to fight protectionism at spring meeting

At their spring meeting in Washington, the steering committee of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) changed its stance on protectionism. It appeared to be a move towards using the language of the US administration.

Washington IWF und Weltbank Treffen Finanzminister mit Schäuble Mnuchin (R) (Reuters/M. Theiler)

Differences over trade policy within the IMF membership, highlighted by US efforts to develop a strategy to slash trade deficits, led the members to drop a pledge to fight protectionism. Instead they turned their attention to geopolitical risks – especially from the presidential elections in France.

@Lagarde with IMFC members during photo opportunity IMF/Worldbank Spring Meetings

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at the meeting during an on-stage interview with  IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde that Trump “believes in reciprocal trade deals and reciprocal free trade.” He added: “What that means is that if our markets are open there should be a reciprocal nature to other markets which should be open as well.”

Mnuchin called for the IMF to step up its surveillance of members’ foreign exchange rates. During the presidential campaign Donald Trump called China “the single greatest currency manipulator that’s ever been on this planet.”

The language of the IMF steering committee statement on Saturday was similar to that used by the Group of 20 (G20) nations when they met last month in Baden-Baden.

Speaking at the end of the meeting, Lagarde told a news conference:  “There was a clear recognition in the room that we have probably moved from high financial and economic risks to more geopolitical risks.”

Lagarde added that a policy shift from “growth momentum to more sharing and inclusive growth” was needed.

Washington IWF und Weltbank Treffen Finanzminister mit Schäuble und Mnuchin (R) (picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. L. Magana)Lagarde with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble and Mnuchin

Earlier in the week, the IMF discussions had focused on protectionist policies that could restrict trade and hamper global growth. But on Saturday, chair of the  the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) Agustin Carstens said members would “work together” to reduce global trade and current account imbalances “through appropriate policies.”

French elections

The IMF managing director’s comments came the day before the French elections in which two of the four leading candidates, far-right leader Marine Le Pen and far-left alliance leader Jean-Luc Melenchon have strongly criticized the European Union.

Le Pen has promised a referendum on France’s EU membership and exiting the euro. Melenchon has said he would work to end the independence of the European Central Bank.

Lagarde had previously warned that a Le Pen presidency could lead to political and economic upheaval. “It would certainly entail major disorder,” Lagarde told a television interviewer.

Spring in the air

The IMF meetings had projected an air of optimism, led by Lagarde who opened the discussions on Thursday saying “Spring is in the air and spring is in the economy as well,” as the fund raised its forecast for global growth for the first time in six years.

“The strengthening of the recovery is for real,” former IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard said.

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US-Russian honeymoon turns sour over Syria

Where to now for US/Russian relations in the wake of Trump’s actions against Syria? Fiona Clark looks at the convoluted relations between the two players.

New York Proteste gegen US-Syrien Angriff (picture-alliance/Zuma/E. Mcgregor)

So, the honeymoon might be over, but does US President Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally bomb a Syrian airfield really mean divorce is imminent? Despite a barrage of baseless conspiracy theories bantering about the bombing being a cunning way to divert attention away from Trump’s alleged ties to the Kremlin, the view from Russia certainly appears to be one of abject disappointment.

Cries of foul play resounded with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accusing Trump of breaking international law and describing the airstrikes as “an act of aggression with an invented pretext,” which, he hoped, would not lead to irreparable damage to US-Russian relations.

Watch video01:42

US, UK step up war of words with Russia

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev went further. He said trust was gone and that relations were “completely ruined” by an action that put them “on the verge of a military clash.”

Read: Gabriel: Russia backs Syrian chemicals attack probe

And it seems the disappointment may only get worse. Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, has indicated that the US is adding the ousting of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to its list of priorities alongside the defeat of IS in the region.

She also raised the prospect of further sanctions against Russia over its support of the Assad regime.

Tillerson’s task

The statement is going to make US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s job in Moscow this week all the more difficult. He maintains Washington’s first priority is the defeat of the “Islamic State” (IS) group, and that the United States is still hopeful it can help bring all parties to the table to begin the process of hammering out a political solution.

“If we can achieve ceasefires in zones of stabilization in Syria, then we hope we will have the conditions to begin a useful political process,” Tillerson told CBS’s Face the Nation.

A long-time friend of Moscow, Tillerson may have a shot at smoothing the troubled waters, but the underlying problem will remain.

Trump’s actions, which many see as justified as drawing a belated line in the sand against the use of chemical weapons, was, it appears, sparked by an emotional response. There appears to be no long-term strategy or plan and the risk is, if challenged again by another chemical weapons strike, he will have to take further action and end up embroiled in a regional battle he hadn’t really bargained for and that brings him into direct conflict with Russia.

Kombobild Trump PutinJust when you thought they might be able to work together…

Read: Putin and Rouhani condemn US missiles against Syria

Predictability, reliability and foreign policy

Russia’s support for Assad isn’t because they love the man or what he stands for – it’s about regional influence and oil. If they can find a suitable replacement for Assad who would ensure Russia’s interests in the region, they’d probably jump at it. But if the US steps in any further and rocks its boat, extending its influence beyond the Saudi-backed states further south, the Kremlin will not be happy.

So how can you have a political dialogue when you don’t know whether the people you’re negotiating with are going to uphold their end of the bargain?

As Lavrov pointed out: “An attack on a country whose government fights terrorism only plays into the hands of extremists, creates additional threats to regional and global security.”

And if Trump had considered the consequences, then he certainly didn’t care about them. Irrespective of whether the decision was right or wrong, Russia will see this as an example of US arrogance and imperialism.

Read: Syria, Russia to dominate G7 meeting amid questions over US strategy

Not only that, but it highlights the central problem with Trump – his unpredictability. The Kremlin may be duplicitous and opportunistic, but it’s rarely random, and it will find it very hard to deal with impulsive behavior and wavering foreign policy.

Tillerson will have his work cut out for him in trying to convince the Kremlin that Trump can be trusted.

There’s only about one certainty in all of this – as US warships steam ahead toward North Korea, President Putin may well be ruing the Kremlin’s alleged involvement in getting Trump elected. The monster it supposedly helped created may pose more problems for it than it ever envisaged.

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Merkel tells Abbas, two-state solution only alternative

The two-state scenario of Palestinians living alongside Israel remains the “only sensible alternative,” Chancellor Angela Merkel has told Mahmoud Abbas in Berlin. The Palestinian president is also due to visit Brussels.

Berlin Abbas bei Merkel (Reuters/P. Kopczynski)

Merkel indirectly warned Israel on Friday that its expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank would lead to “erosion of the two-state solution,” that would also put Israel’s future at risk.

“I still do not see a reasonable alternative to the goal of a two-state solution,” Merkel said in an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump’s suggestion last month that a Palestinian state alongside Israel was not the only solution.

Abbas, speaking alongside Merkel at a Berlin press conference, thanked Germany for what he termed German political and material support provided to improve Palestinian institutional structures.

Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsmann, told Germany’s “Nordwest-Zeitung” newspaper on Friday that Israel was not against the two-state solution but insisted that Palestinians return to the negotiating table, without pre-conditions.

Renewed peace efforts?

Peace efforts lead by the former Obama’s administration’s secretary of state John Kerry collapsed in 2014. One of Trump’s top advisers, Jason Greenblatt, visited Israel and the Palestinian territories last week for talks on both sides as Trump issued an invitation to Abbas.

Israel has continued to build settlements in the occupied West Bank – seized by Israel in a 1967 war – and where Palestinians want to establish their state.

Statistics on settlements

On Wednesday, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics published figures, showing that ground was broken on 2,630 housing units last year compared with 1,884 in 2015.

That figures excluded East Jerusalem, also occupied in 1967 and later annexed.

Some three million Palestinians live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israeli settlers amount to some 200,000 in east Jerusalem and 400,000 in the West Bank.

Call to find successor

On Thursday evening, while addressing Germany’s conservative Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Abbas asked rhetorically whether Israel wanted “only one state.”

“On 60 percent of our territory we cannot move freely,” Abbas said. “We can’t even move a stone or plant a tree on these grounds.”

Deutschland Palästinenserpräsident Mahmud Abbas in Berlin (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Stache)Can’t even move a stone, says Abbas

Roderich Kiesewetter of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) urged Abbas, who next Sunday will turn 82, to find a successor.

Otherwise a dangerous vacuum could result, said Kiesewetter, who is a leading conservative in the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

Controversial report removed

Before meeting Abbas on Friday, Merkel warned Palestinians that if they wanted peace it was wrong to condemn Israel within international bodies.

Earlier this week, UN chief Antonio Guterres had ordered the removal from a UN website of a report that had accused Israel of establishing an “apartheid regime” that dominated Palestinians.

UN undersecretary Rima Khalaf resigned last Friday after resisting Guterres’ request to remove the document, which had drawn US condemnation.

Guterres’ spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, claimed it had been published without consultation with the UN secretariat.

Khalaf had headed the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), a Beirut-based UN body.

Guterres is due to travel to Jordan next week to attend an Arab summit and hold bilateral meetings expected to focus on the wars in Syria, Yemen, Libya and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

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US President Trump welcomes Chancellor Merkel to the White House

Chancellor Merkel and President Trump have held their first joint press conference at the White House. Items on the agenda for the first meetings between the two leaders are NATO, immigration and global trade.

Watch video00:27

Merkel: ‘Security and defense have many dimensions’

President Donald Trump welcomed Chancellor Angela Merkel to the White House for their first meeting on Friday.

They sat for photos in the Oval Office following their talks and roundtable discussion with US and German business leaders. Trump had quipped with journalists, urging them to “send a good picture back to Germany, please.” Despite awkward body language from both leaders, Merkel said the talks went “very well.”

Trump is the third US President Merkel has met as chancellor. She took time in the press conference to appreciate the role of the US in rebuilding Germany after World War II through the Marshall Plan, and in reunifying Germany after 1989.

On defense and NATO spending

Trump reaffirmed his “strong support” for the NATO alliance, but he also said he had pressed the chancellor to increase Germany’s defense budget and to meet the 2 percent of GDP target for defense spending. NATO allies, the president said, need to “pay their fair share” for the cost of defense.

tells @realDonaldTrump Germany will live up to its promise to spend more on defence, but stresses that security is about much more:

“Many nations owe vast sums of money” and that situation is “very unfair to the United States,” Trump said.

Merkel pledged to continue to increase Germany’s defense budget and reaffirmed her commitment of achieving the 2 percent of GDP threshold by 2024. Germany’s current level is 1.2 percent. Merkel also stressed the need to find a solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

In her opening remarks at the press conference, Merkel said it was important to “talk to one another and not about one another.”

On trade

Ahead of their press conference, Trump hosted a roundtable discussion with the chancellor and a delegation of German and US business leaders, where he voiced his praise for Germany’s vocational apprenticeship schemes.

Ahead of the chancellor’s trip to Washington, German political and business leaders had expressed concerns that Trump’s “America First” policy  favors US exports. Answering a reporter’s question about protectionism at the press conference in the White House on Friday, Trump pushed back against any accusations that his economic policy was isolationist.

On trade, @realDonaldTrump denied being opposed to free trade. But what lies ahead for the Germany-US trade ties? http://dw.com/p/2Z5nk?maca=en-tco-dw 

“I’m a free trader but also a fair trader,” Trump said, adding that he expected “fair and reciprocal policies” in Washington’s relationship with Berlin. However, Trump did not rule out adopting more protectionist policies and said previous trade policies had left millions of US citizens being “behind by international commerce.”

Ahead of Merkel and Trump’s meeting, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble spoke out against the US president’s brand of protectionism during a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Baden-Baden.

The White House meeting had been initially been scheduled for Tuesday but was postponed after a major snowstorm blanketed large parts of the US east coast.

On immigration

Perhaps the most anticipated remarks from both leaders were on each country’s divergent immigration policies.

However, just days after his executive order temporarily suspending the US refugee program and barring people from a number of Muslim-majority countries, Trump reaffirmed his position that “Immigration is a privilege, not a right, and the safety of our citizens must always come first, without question.”

Merkel did not speak in depth on immigration but said she agreed with the president in stressing the importance of tackling illegal immigration and combatting radical threats. She confirmed the need for strong borders but also to help people in their own countries in Africa and the Middle East, before they became refugees.

Watch video00:25

Awkward handshake moment between Merkel and Trump

On immigration, Trump had berated the German chancellor on multiple occasions last year and accused her of “ruining Germany” for her open-door refugee policy.

Since the height of the migrant crisis in the fall of 2015, Germany has settled almost a million refugees from war-torn states such as Iraq and Syria.

I told you @TIME Magazine would never pick me as person of the year despite being the big favorite They picked person who is ruining Germany

“You watch what happens to Angela Merkel, who I always thought of as a very good leader until she did this,” Trump, then a candidate, said at a rally in Virginia in August. “I don’t know what went wrong with her. Angela, what happened?”

Watch video00:27

Merkel: “People are different”

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