German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended free trade at a summit of European and Asian leaders in Brussels on Friday, rejecting the protectionist rhetoric and policy of US President Donald Trump.
"We can show that it's about creating win-win situations, making it clear that when one profits, the other also profits," she said at the 12th summit of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).
Merkel's call set the tone of the two-day meeting, where 30 European leaders and their counterparts from 21 Asian countries are expected to defend the World Trade Organization (WTO), international cooperation, and the fight against climate change.
"The summit shows that countries from Europe and Asia, which all want a rule-based world trade, are gathering here to commit themselves to multilateralism and this is an important signal," Merkel said.
Trump's specter and a deal with Singapore
The German chancellor's comments directly contradicted Trump's zero-sum approach to trade and disregard for multilateralism.
Under the banner of "America First," the US president has called for ripping up free trade deals, protected domestic industries through tariffs, and lambasted Germany and the European Union for their high export surpluses with the US.
Fighting back against that doctrine, the EU and Singapore signed a free trade deal later on Friday on the sidelines of the summit.
The agreement had been in the works for eight years, but progress stalled amid growing protests against other trade accords like the one struck with Canada and one planned with the US.
The new trade deal will need to be approved by the European Parliament and the national parliaments of the EU's 28 member states before it can take effect.
Divisions below the surface
Disagreements nevertheless emerged between Europe and China on Friday, with China refusing to admit wording in a final communique that would have called for the end of state subsidies, according to Reuters news agency.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told reporters that when it comes to China's trade practices, Europe expects trade rules to be upheld.
"When we find protectionism, we reject it. Free trade must always be fair, equitable and based on rules. That goes in both directions," Kurz said.
The EU and the United States have criticized China for distorting international trade by subsidizing national companies and promoting oversupply in international steel and aluminum markets.
European leaders also face challenges in maintaining good trading relations with Asian countries that have poor human rights records. Electoral irregularities in Cambodia and the Rohingya humanitarian crisis in Myanmar have led the bloc to recently threaten to revoke both countries' trading privileges.
Merkel acknowledged those difficulties in her speech on Friday, admitting that European leaders would "have to bring up questions of human rights and values in bilateral talks."
rs, amp/rt (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)