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"An investment in your transatlantic friends is an investment in yourself"

On November 12, 2020 AmCham Germany, together with BDI, Deloitte and Commerzbank, organized its 14th Transatlantic Business Conference. This year’s conference focused on the German-American transatlantic partnership in the next decade amid the Corona pandemic and US elections.


Event Report: AmCham Germany’s 14th Transatlantic Business Conference

“Today’s conference is dedicated to transatlantic relations in the context of the US Election and, of course, COVID-19.” With these words, Frank Sportolari, President of AmCham Germany, opened the 14th Transatlantic Business Conference with the motto The German-American Transatlantic Partnership in the Next Decade. This year’s virtual conference, moderated by Melinda Crane, journalist and publicist was a joint event organized by AmCham Germany in cooperation with the BDI, Commerzbank and Deloitte.

“There is no genie in a bottle to make our problems disappear”

“Now, after Joe Biden has won the US election,” Sportolari said, “I believe that rebuilding trust on both sides of the Atlantic is the key to successful transatlantic trade and prosperity in Germany and the US”. Even though “this election is a stress test for the US society, the American people clearly voted for democracy,“ underlined Prof. Dieter Kempf, President of the BDI in his opening speech. “Of course there is no genie in a bottle to make our problems disappear”, he stated. Therefore, it’s now time to find solutions for our conflicts, because “if we do not get our act together it will be taken away by others”, Kempf stated. The US and Germany need to solve their trade conflicts and also the WTO needs to be reformed. Therefore, the US, EU and Germany should focus on building bridges and not trenches, Kempf explained. “The transatlantic partnership is founded on shared values and on countless people to people relationships,” Kempf believes.



“COVID-19 is not only a public health crisis, it’s a multi crisis”

Nevertheless 59% of the conference participants believe that a future Biden administration will have problems to reunite the country given the current perception of deep divisions in the American society. With this survey results in mind, Melinda Crane opened the first panel on the topic The US Election: What can we expect now?

The panelists Ambassador Richard Burt, Managing Partner McLarty Associates, Juliane Schäuble, US Correspondent at Tagesspiegel and Dr. Constanze Stelzenmüller, Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution, agreed on the problem that COVID-19 is not only a public health crisis, but it also has serious implications on the economy. “We’re looking at a multi crisis: A health crisis, an economic crisis and a social crisis”, Constanze Stelzenmüller explained. Therefore, “the corona pandemic will be Biden’s priority one to ten,” she added. However, Biden’s first priority in foreign policy will be to manage the aggressive rise of China. Stelzenmüller believes: “The Biden Administration is likely to have a sophisticated understanding of handling the China challenge.” In the long run, Germany will have to recalibrate its relations to China, the panelists outlined.

The Economy Prefers Predictability, not Chaos

Juliane Schäuble further mentioned: “It’s a troubling time even when Biden is moving forward“. In general “economy doesn’t like chaos, it likes predictability.” But she also believes that a president Biden is someone who could find his own coalitions depending on different policy issues. Therefore, another important policy area, the Biden administration will have to address, will be the Paris Climate Agreement. Especially concerning climate change “the pressure of the left wing of the party is huge to commit to the Paris climate agreement again,” Schäuble said. But Biden has to get the coalition in congress behind his policy approaches.

Constanze Stelzenmüller furthermore outlined that there are also strong incentives to find solutions to existing trade issues: Digital trade and a WTO reform will be issues Biden should address as well. What was especially noticed in the US, was the joint invention of a vaccine against COVID-19 by the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and the German company Biontech. “This is a huge opportunity for German-American cooperation”, Richard Burt closed.



Pfizer’s Nr. 1 Priority: Delivering Breakthrough Medicines to Patients

“In this complex situation, the EU has an important role to play because it has the power to respond to this global crisis,” Peter Albiez, CEO Pfizer Deutschland GmbH, stated in his remarks. In this viewpoint from the industry, Albiez explained how Pfizer is ambitious to bring the vaccine against COVID-19 to the global market as soon as possible. To strengthen the pharma industry Albiez emphasized three crucial points:

“First, we have to be aware of the fact that in a challenging trade environment, trade restrictions also affect patients in Europe and the US.” This is why he believes that both sides of the Atlantic need to stand up for free trade again.

Secondly, he stated, a strong framework and high property standards are crucial in free trade agreements, as those would encourage investment in the pharma sector.

Thirdly, he believes that the diversity of supply chains is important to ensure stability and short disruptions. “I want to address these points together with AmCham Germany,” as “only with cooperation we can benefit from innovations in the future and countries around the globe can benefit from this pharmaceutical effort,” Albiez concluded.

“We need to trust, stay optimistic and curious”

“We need to trust”,with these words Annette Green, Vice President DACH at SAS, began her statement, another viewpoint from the industry at the Transatlantic Business Conference. “We need to trust in politics and in business, so that we can invest in growth and gain market acceptance,” Green outlined. In her eyes, building trust means promoting stability. Therefore: “We need to collaborate more and to separate less”, she stated. Even in this difficult situation, we all have reason to be optimistic, we have to stay positive and curious, as “our economies are strong and will profit from innovation,” Green mentioned. She emphasized, that especially Germany and the US will profit from liable cooperation.

“We need a network of partnerships throughout Europe“

The final viewpoint from the industry came from Matthias Dietel, IBM. Dietel also relies on cooperation and networks, as IBM has a long tradition in dealing with qualifications and skills building. “We suffered from a lack of IT professionals, all over the globe”, Dietel mentioned. This is why IBM invented its Skills Build Program. “What we see within the last years is an acceleration of digitalization and a decrease of the half-life of our knowledge,” Dietel outlined. This is why each and everyone needs to accomplish more over lifetime, and we need to preserve a culture of lifelong learning. IBM helps people and businesses to build critical skills through courses and programs. “We need a network of partnerships throughout Europe“, Dietel stated. Therefore, IBM provides apprenticeships, free education programs and partners with educators and institutions to prepare learners of all ages for 21st century jobs.



New Technologies are Crucial in Times of Crisis

The introduction to the second panel was directly related to Matthias Dietel’s remarks, as Jeff Bullwinkel, Associate General Counsel and Regional Director of Corporate, Legal and External Affairs at Microsoft Europe, stated: “New technologies are important for students and employees during the pandemic.”

Sparking Magic: People Coming Together and Sharing Ideas

COVID-19 and working remotely will change the future of work and new office concepts are needed. Bullwinkel recognized increased employee productivity during the pandemic. However, the working remotely is also a challenge for teamwork and creativity. “There‘s a magic in people coming together”, Bullwinkel said. This challenge was also noticed by Thomas Schiller, Member of the Executive Committee at Deloitte Germany and Managing Partner Clients and Industries. He mentioned that Deloitte is still in a response situation. He stated that we have to focus in future investments, not only in short-term ones,.

Now Is the Time for Stronger Cooperation

Roland Boehm, Head of Division International Corporates and Divisional Board Member at Commerzbank AG, added that companies have to reinvent or readjust their supply chains. At Commerzbank, the client interaction has been strong during the pandemic, a lot of clients went into the situation well capitalized. The default rates have also remained relatively stable. He believes that we well see more working from home in the future, as politics responded extremely quickly to the pandemic and developed helpful measures to stabilize things.

Jennifer Turner, Head of Regions Development at Evonik Industries AG, stated: “We are also not immune to the global pandemic.” In some parts of their business, Evonik recognized a shift of demand, but overall the business shows resilience during this pandemic. What will be interesting in Turner’s eyes is whether a president Biden and congress will be able to pass through a second stimulus package. Whereas she is skeptical about this, the panelists agree, that powerful instrument to secure liquidity are needed to keep businesses running. As the first stimulus package in the US was very effective in helping the vulnerable parts of the population, all panelists outlined that a second package is needed. “Now is the time for stronger cooperation – we need a transatlantic bridge, a globalization 2.0, to make sure that we will not only have national solutions,” Roland Boehm closed.



“Transatlantic ties are here to stay, no matter what”

The closing speech of the 14th Transatlantic Business Conference was held by Federica Mogherini, Rector of the College of Europe and former High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission. In her transatlantic keynote speech, she emphasized the transatlantic history and the transatlantic partnership. “We are one because of our shared values, history and future,” Mogherini stated. “Our ties are strong because of the economic partnership and our ties are here to stay, no matter what”, she said. From an European perspective, she said, it was important to have an administration in the White House that appreciates the European integration project. She also has no doubt that the US will regain its place in the multilateral order.“There won’t be a restoration of the past,” she mentioned. “The “investment in your transatlantic friends, in multilateralism, is an investment in yourself,” Mogherini closed.



AmCham Germany wants to thank its cooperation partners BDI, Commerzbank and Deloitte, as well as all supporters: Frankfurt Rhein Main, IBM, Lilly, Microsoft, NRW Global Business Trade and Investment Agency, Pfizer and SAS. Thank you for making this virtual event a success!