BUSINESS SUMMIT Merkel Preaches to the Choir

Business leaders are rallying behind Chancellor Angela Merkel as she uses the G20 as a bully pulpit to condemn protectionism.
The power of the pulpit. Chancellor Merkel preaches to the choir. Picture source: Reuters.

For business leaders weary of populist political rhetoric, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s vigorous defense of free trade in Berlin on Wednesday was music to their ears.

Some 2,500 business representatives gathered in the German capital this week for the B20 summit, which advises the leaders of the G20 advanced and major emerging economies.

While the G20 political leaders have been notoriously divided on trade this year, the business community has taken a clear and unequivocal position against protectionism.

Simply the existence of the G20 means that protectionism and isolationism are dead ends, not a way forward. Angela Merkel, German Chancellor

Business leaders such as Sunil Bharti Mittal, president of the International Chamber of Commerce, view Ms. Merkel as the right leader for G20 at the right time.

She has emerged as one of the few leaders who will unequivocally defend free trade as the other liberal powers - the United States, Britain and France – descend into protectionism and nationalism.

“Chancellor Merkel really has to take a stance as one of the strong world leaders in favor of global trade,” Mr. Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises, told Handelsblatt.

“I hope she can persuade the other 19 colleagues on the panel to at least mildly talk about their anti-protectionism pledge,” Mr. Mittal said.

During a meeting in Baden-Baden last March, the G20 finance ministers were unable to adopt a pledge against protectionism, normally a non-controversial formality, due to opposition from the United States.

And at the IMF’s spring meeting in Washington, global policymakers again dropped a pledge against protectionism. US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the White House supports “reciprocal trade.”

But Mr. Mittal said the Trump administration’s insistence on fair trade amounts to protectionism. Ms. Merkel, for her part, was clear in her address to the B20 on Wednesday.

“The existence of the G20 means that protectionism and isolationism are dead ends and not ways forward,” Ms. Merkel said.

Whether she will be able to convince leaders such as President Trump is a more difficult question. After all, the chancellor was preaching to the business choir in Berlin.

Martin Greive is a correspondent for Handelsblatt based in Berlin. Thomas Sigmund is Handelsblatt's Berlin bureau chief. To contact the author: [email protected], [email protected]