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EU-U.S. Officials Work To Avoid Trade War And Resolve Other Issues

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump's recent statements on trade along with pushing forward tariffs on steel and aluminum has many of America's trading partners on edge, and that includes Germany. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross met with his German counterpart, Peter Altmaier, on Monday. Altmaier said he is hopeful the countries can avoid a trade war over these new tariffs. Joining us to talk about this and more is Norbert Rottgen. He is the chair of Germany's parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mr. Rottgen, welcome back to the program.

NORBERT ROTTGEN: Hello.

GREENE: So Germany hoping to avoid a trade war - I mean, that sounds like a low bar to reach. But it - are you concerned about a trade war? Is that a realistic concern here?

ROTTGEN: First of all, I think we should be - we should not carelessly talk about war. I think war, in all dimensions and all folds, are in nobody's interests. And generally, wars don't see winners but only losers, so we should not have the war. And we don't have a war.

GREENE: OK. But are you worried? I mean, I know you've asked the Trump administration hopefully...

ROTTGEN: Yeah.

GREENE: ...Hoping for an exemption along with Canada and Mexico on these tariffs. If you don't get that exemption - I won't use the word war - but could this be a crisis situation?

ROTTGEN: Yes. But it's - I think it's not that they - the prime position and view of the Europeans is not that we receive exemptions, but we are determined to uphold the international system of free trade or regulated trade or a trade system which is organized within and by the WTO. I think this is the main issue we have to debate. Raising barriers between countries in order to thwart trade will eventually be paid by consumers, by people, by citizens and by companies, and we should avoid that. And so we tried to convince our American partners that they remain what they have been after the end of the Second World War - the steward, the leader of the international system - and that withdrawal will do harm, particularly the workers in the United States.

GREENE: That's a pretty huge charge to make - that the United States is no longer, you know, the leading role it played after World War II. I mean, this is a decision by President Trump that does have the support of some of the big unions in the United States. There are some lawmakers who feel that these tariffs might help manufacturing workers in the U.S. I mean, can you empathize at all? Would you do something if you knew that it would help, say, workers in Germany in the manufacturing sectors?

ROTTGEN: Our conviction and our experience - and not only in Germany and Europe - I think across the world - is that doing trade and let trade flow is the best you can do to achieve competitiveness. It is the best what you can do for innovation and for creating sustainable jobs. And this will hold true also for the United States now as it was true in the early 2000s when George W. Bush tried the same approach and failed because also in the United States, you have a few hundred thousand workers in the steel producing industry, but you have millions in the steel processing industry. And for them, steel will become more expensive. They will fall in their competitiveness if unilaterally - if unilateral tariffs are going to be imposed on everybody else in the world.

GREENE: And that is, of course, a debate that's happening right now in this country - what the effect of these tariffs would actually be. Let me just ask you - the president of the European Commission, in response to President Trump, said he might be ready to slap tariffs on products like Harley-Davidsons, I mean, jeans, clothing, try to find a way to respond to this. Donald Trump has said that the United States, if there's going to be a trade war, would easily win. I mean, are you worried that you might be playing into some politics that President Trump finds helpful?

ROTTGEN: I'm very much sharing the view that we should not join the logic of war and retaliation. I think we should now seize the opportunity to pick up the issues the American president has raised. He has complained about a trade unfairness, and we should pick up and take this point and say, yes, then let's talk about it. Let's negotiate a comprehensive agreement, a bilateral agreement on fair trade between Washington and Brussels. That is the way friends and allies should tackle their issues they have.

GREENE: Norbert Rottgen is the chair of Germany's parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee. Thanks so much for talking to us this morning.

ROTTGEN: Thank you so much. Very much appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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