'Nein Danke' - smaller German firms see U.S. trade deal as threat

Sun Jun 28, 2015 3:12am EDT
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By Caroline Copley

BERLIN (Reuters) - Martina Roemmelt-Fella, who owns a small, family-run turbine manufacturer in Bavaria, should be a cheerleader for a trade deal between Europe and the United States that promises to ease the flow of goods and services across the Atlantic.

But instead she fears the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) being hammered out between Brussels and Washington will give too much power to big multinationals at the expense of small companies like hers.

"The proposals are being negotiated behind closed doors with the help of 50 or 60 big corporates," said Roemmelt-Fella, whose firm is one of the thousands of small and medium-sized companies known as the 'Mittelstand' that account for 89 percent of Germany's exporters and form the backbone of the economy.

"TTIP may bring significant benefits for big multinationals, but I don't think there are big advantages for the Mittelstand," she added.

Her opposition underscores the depth of scepticism towards TTIP in Germany, Europe's largest economy, where media coverage has focused largely on protests from anti-globalization groups and labor unions. It also highlights the challenge facing German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she tries to overturn entrenched suspicion of the pact.

While Merkel and big businesses, such as industrial group Siemens (SIEGn.DE: Quote) and car parts supplier Robert Bosch [ROBG.UL], remain strongly in favor of a deal, public support has fallen sharply over the past year, according to a recent opinion poll. Such widespread German mistrust could mean a deal has to be diluted or is even blocked.

Hurdles are also growing in Brussels, where as negotiators prepare for their 10th meeting next month, the European Parliament is so split on the subject that it cannot even agree to debate it.

Earlier this month, Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel declared that the talks might fail.   Continued...

People demonstrate against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States, during a protest rally prior to the G7 summit, in Munich, Germany in this June 3, 2015 file picture. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/Files