Heads of German Business in Washington

04/08/2014

For the first time, the two senior most German business representatives visited Washington, D.C., together. Ulrich Grillo is the chairman of the Federation of German Industries (BDI) and Eric Schweitzer serves as the chairman of the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK). Their visit to the capital of the United States included numerous talks with congressmen, members of the U.S. Administration, and heads of business organizations.

Both Mr. Grillo and Dr. Schweitzer used the conversations in Washington to express the importance of strong transatlantic relations for the German economy. They advocated for an ambitious conclusion to negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). At a meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, the chairmen pointed out that the agreement is not just about dismantling of existing trade barriers, but also aims to strengthen the transatlantic partnership in many business-related areas in the future. They reiterated that TTIP can foster trade between the United States and the European Union, especially for small and medium enterprises.

A recurring question was how TTIP is being depicted and discussed on both sides of the Atlantic. The consensus was that the current discussion about TTIP in Germany is one-sided and fails to recognize the great potential of a stronger transatlantic partnership. The talks with several trade experts made clear that concerns have to be taken seriously and that negotiations are not about lowering standards or regulations. Instead, both sides need to refocus perception of TTIP as a project with tremendous economic and strategic potential.

During their 3-day visit, Mr. Grillo and Dr. Schweitzer also talked about other aspects of transatlantic relations. The situation in Ukraine was offered as an example of the particular importance of a transatlantic partnership in times of crises. Vocational education was also discussed. The German American Chambers of Commerce are already very active in this field, and the delegation announced they will continue to support companies in the United States with skills based education.

The chairmen of BDI and DIHK also provided the keynote speeches at the Conference “Different Paths to a Shared Goal: Fostering Transatlantic Trade and Manufacturing in the 21st Century,” organized by the Representative of German Industry and Trade (RGIT) at the U.S. Capitol. The speeches were followed by two discussion panels on trade and energy, respectively.

Please click here to see the photo gallery of the conference.

The first panel focused on trade and TTIP. On the heels of the recent fourth round of TTIP negotiations, the speakers discussed the implications of the negotiations and underlined the importance of such an agreement for small and medium enterprises. The second panel discussed whether renewables or shale gas will power the transatlantic economy. All speakers agreed that in an increasingly globalized and ever more technology-based economy, the need for abundant, cost-effective, and available-on-demand energy production must be balanced with concerns for the environment and costs to the consumer. However, it is still unclear whether government and industry possess the necessary foresight to plan for a new energy future.

The visit of Ulrich Grillo and Dr. Eric Schweitzer was an important step in underlining the importance of a transatlantic business relationship. It is also a strong signal for the next rounds of negotiations for a trade and investment agreement.