Interview With Markus Sievers of Berliner Zeitung

Charles H. Rivkin
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Berlin, Germany
January 27, 2015

QUESTION: The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) negotiations are accompanied by a considerable degree of mistrust. How are you planning to overcome the resistance?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RIVKIN: We should focus more on the opportunities that free trade provides for the U.S. and the EU. We want to harmonize regulation in highly developed economies. Our generation has the unique opportunity to strengthen the transatlantic partnership and to ensure more growth and employment on both sides of the Atlantic.

QUESTION: But tariffs are already very low.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RIVKIN: Right. But even low tariffs are impediments for the small and medium-sized businesses that are the backbone of the U.S. and German economies. Free trade increases our export prospects. In the past five years, exports accounted for up to a third of U.S. growth and created 1.6 million jobs. Exports were the motor of our economy, and it is no different in Europe. This also benefits the workers. Export businesses pay the highest wages.

QUESTION: There is increasing doubt that an agreement will be possible during President Obama’s term in office. How much time pressure is there?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RIVKIN: We want to come to a conclusion as soon as possible. But content is more important than time schedules. The United States is also negotiating a trade agreement with the countries in the Pacific region. I think that a Trans-Pacific free trade agreement could provide an important impetus for the Transatlantic negotiations.

QUESTION: And would the conclusion of T-TIP exert pressure on Europe?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RIVKIN: As Ambassador to France, I often heard the concern that the U.S. was turning more towards Asia. But that is not President Obama's goal. The European nations are our oldest and closest friends. These regions together make up more than half of global GDP. But, of course, a trade agreement with the 12 Pacific Rim states would boost trade there enormously. This is our aim for both regions, for the Pacific as well as the Atlantic nations. It would facilitate trade for 80 percent of the world's population. This is an ambitious goal.

QUESTION: Many critics are opposed to the planned protections for investors. Why do businesses need to be able to file legal actions at dispute settlement courts outside of the normal justice system?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RIVKIN: Many might be surprised by this, but investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) was really a German invention. Worldwide, some 100 states have concluded approximately 3,300 agreements that provide for this kind of dispute settlement mechanism. Germany itself has 130 such agreements, also with EU and OECD countries. It's not a new idea, but a tried and tested process. It will not impede the normal justice system; it only serves to provide fair protection of the investors' interests.

QUESTION: Nonetheless, there is a risk of legal action by large companies against ecological and social standards, for example against restrictions on the controversial technology of fracking. To what extent may free trade set the rules for policy makers?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RIVKIN: ISDS cannot block government decisions or reverse them. This concern is unfounded. There are U.S. states that do not allow fracking. The U.S. government could never force one of the 28 EU states to allow fracking if the countries themselves did not want it. President Obama was very clear on that. He will not sign a treaty that will prevent him or his successors from regulating in the public interest. I am sure that Chancellor Merkel sees it the same way.

QUESTION: Many Europeans and especially many Germans fear that their supermarkets will sell chlorinated chicken from the U.S. in the future. And they will not even notice because the producers and sellers won't have to label it. Is that fair?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RIVKIN: We understand the concern in general. But the United States, just like the Europeans, wants to protect its citizens. We want our consumers to live safe and well. We clean chicken with chlorine just like the Europeans clean vegetables with chlorine. It is the same approach, just applied to different kinds of food. Regarding chicken, we in the U.S. do not accept any kind of salmonella or other germs. This policy has contributed significantly to reducing the spread of disease.

QUESTION: Europe is stuck in a crisis. The ECB is fighting the downturn with trillions. How does the Eurozone look from the point of view of the Americans?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RIVKIN: Europe is the United States' largest trading partner. A strong Europe is in the interest of the United States. Yes, we are worried in light of the well-known problems. But I am convinced that a free trade agreement will also strengthen Europe. This would be a program to stimulate the economy, that wouldn’t cost anything, and that wouldn’t increase deficits. Europe is more than just a business partner. Europe is a strategic partner for the U.S. This generation now has the unique opportunity to strengthen the transatlantic bond and the friendship between the U.S. and Europe through T-TIP.

This interview also appeared in the German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau.