Merkel faces tough white house trade talks as macron a hard act to follow world news the guardian gas vs electric oven efficiency


Angela Merkel travels to Washington on Friday armed with binders of facts and figures aimed at averting a trade war between the EU and the US – but little hope of swaying an intransigent Donald Trump, who remains convinced that their trading relationship is biased in Europe’s favour.

Officials accompanying Merkel will try to convince the US president that America’s trade deficit with Germany is not only shrinking but also determined by factors beyond the chancellor’s control. They will remind Trump that America exports more cars made by German companies on American soil than it imports vehicles made in Germany.

But government officials in Berlin concede they are now resigned to the current exemption on US tariffs on steel and aluminium coming to an end on 1 May – despite last-ditch lobbying efforts to extend the exemption and a German-led complaint over the issue to the World Trade Organization.

German steel manufacturers have downplayed concerns, but there are fears that the move could trigger a cycle of counter-tariffs, and the EU has already threatened tariffs on imports such as whisky, motorbikes and jeans. “The threat of punitive tariffs creates a serious endurance test for the transatlantic relationship,” the Federation of German Industries (BDI) said in a statement.

The German government is adamant that the EU’s current tariff regime is not unfairly skewed against American interests, but it is starting to appear more open to a wholesale renegotiation of the terms of trade – a sign of Berlin’s growing helplessness in the face of Trump’s bulldozer approach to dealmaking, and Merkel’s continued failure to get a grip on her impulsive US counterpart.

The German chancellor has had to witness her standing in Washington diminish dramatically over the course of the last 18 months. Merkel was seemingly anointed as the torchbearer for liberal democracy by the outgoing Barack Obama in November 2016, but her closeness to Trump’s Democratic predecessor has turned her into an easy target for the administration, which continues to publicly agitate against Germany’s trade surplus and low defence spending.

Officials in Berlin complain about a lack of direct channels of communication to the White House: until the former Fox News contributor Richard Grenell was confirmed on Thursday as Trump’s ambassador to Berlin, the position was vacant for fifteen months.

“France currently has a considerably higher standing in Washington than Germany,” said Jana Puglierin of the German Council on Foreign Relations. “The French are seen as more constructive, more transactional, more proactive on counter-terrorism, whereas the German attitude looks nostalgic and moralising.”

“The current roles play to the two European leaders’ strengths: Macron is doing the cooking, while Merkel is washing up the dishes,” said Tyson Barker, a Berlin-based researcher at the Aspen Institute thinktank. In a city like Berlin, where close relations with America have historically been seen as a prerequisite for political stability, messages from Washington are awaited with more nervousness than in Paris.

“Merkel is handicapped by domestic opinion while Macron is not,” said Ulrich Speck, an expert on German-American relations. “Germans hate Trump and think the chancellor should embody their feelings. The French don’t like Trump but are much less emotional on the US.” The German chancellor, Speck predicted, would “push the reset button” during Friday’s working visit.