German Finance Minister Christian Lindner on Sunday called for a renewed attempt to secure a free trade agreement with the US in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"We should resume negotiations," Lindner told German business daily Handelsblatt. "Especially now with the [Ukraine] crisis, it is becoming clear how important free trade is with partners in the world who share our values."
He said Europe should learn from the mistakes made during negotiations for an earlier trade deal with Washington, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which failed after several rounds of talks.
Free trade with US controversial in Europe
Brussels and Washington first began talks in 2013 with the aim of bringing the world's two largest trading areas closer together, reducing tariffs in the process.
But former US President Donald Trump pulled out of negotiations three years later, amid worsening trade tensions with the EU.
Although trade talks resumed in 2018, plans for what would have been the world's largest free-trade zone were then declared "obsolete" by the European Commission just months later.
TTIP sparked controversy across Europe, especially in Germany, over plans to allow corporations to sue governments over claims of unfair treatment, as well as making them entitled to compensation.
Other critics claimed that the EU's food and environmental standards, including consumer rights, would be weakened by free trade with the US.
Ukraine conflict has strengthened relations
Since the election of US President Joe Biden, transatlantic ties have improved and the acrimony of the Trump era appears to be forgotten.
Some analysts think the Ukraine conflict has strengthened EU-US relations, but warn that the current isolation of Russia, imposed by the US and Europe, could force China to decouple economically from the West.
"Instead of watching them [trade talks] being torpedoed until they are doomed to fail, as they have been in the past," Achim Wambach, president of the Center for European Economic Research (ZEW), told Handelsblatt that "we need more trade agreements and in particular with allies such as the US."
Economist Vincent Stamer of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW) said an EU-US trade agreement is "more urgent than ever in these times."
"If China should break away as an export market, we must ensure adequate alternatives beforehand," he said.
US President Joe Biden will travel to Brussels this week for the EU leaders' summit, with the Ukraine war and Europe's energy crisis likely to dominate the talks.
mm/jcg (AFP, Reuters)