Ecumenical News International

Bedford-Strohm rejects TTIP

June 6, 2015

Stuttgart (epd). Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), rejects the free trade agreement TTIP between the EU and the USA. There are many signs that the agreement will not be conducive to social policy and ecological progress, he said on Friday at the Kirchentag in Stuttgart. "That is why I can't recommend approving TTIP in its present state," Bedford-Strohm declared. Federal economy minister Sigmar Gabriel called for a more thoughtful debate. The agreement was far from being adopted, he reminded the audience.

Gabriel, who is chair of the governing coalition social democratic party (SPD) and Germany's deputy chancellor, added that it could not be the right of an enlightened society to "reject something before it had been fully negotiated". Apart from in Austria, the debate about TTIP was nowhere as heated as in Germany, he noted. "I don't think that is because we are wiser than the others," Gabriel commented. Advocates and opponents of TTIP should try to understand the other position better.
At the start of the event, representatives of Campact, a network critical of globalisation, handed Gabriel almost 400,000 signatures with the demand to stop negotiations. Many members of the audience held up signs reading "Stop TTIP" or "Stop CETA", a planned economic and trade agreement between the EU and Canada.

Bedford-Strohm, who is also the bishop of Bavaria, pointed to the close link between poverty, trade and refugee policy. Far-sighted refugee policy above all consists of finally ending the terrible injustice in the world, so that no one needs to leave their country anymore due to poverty. "Trade policy is the refugee policy of the future," he added.

In addition, he feared that poorer countries could be even more "decoupled" from global markets by an agreement like TTIP. The consequence would very likely be "a development policy that only consists of repairing the economic system", and that did not make sense, said Bedford-Strohm.

"A fair world trade system could make a great contribution to combating poverty," added Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel, president of the Protestant development agency Bread for the World. TTIP had hitherto been about improving the economic position of partners over against China, e.g. in the area of services. She regretted that there had not been any negotiation yet on social or environmental standards.

Gabriel maintained that anyone wanting to improve standards in the world could not refuse to talk with the United States as the driver of globalisation. It would be better if Europe and the US strove to agree on common standards rather than leaving this to the US and China, he stated, adding: "No free trade agreement in the world can change laws." His party, the SPD, would not agree to an agreement containing the controversial arbitration tribunals, Gabriel declared. It was also "quite definite" that no genetically modified food would come to Europe from the US through TTIP. (epd)



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