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Event Report Media Library

12th Transatlantic Business Conference


Shaping trade for the 21st century


"Trade can secure peace and freedom, but trade is facing disruption." This unequivocal statement from Commerzbank Chief Risk Officer Dr. Marcus Chromik set the tone for the 12th Transatlantic Business Conference. It was a timely remark, considering the conference took place against the backdrop of the G20 summit, the signing of NAFTA's replacement - the USMCA - and the recent flair-up of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The Haus der Commerzbank and Axel-Springer-Haus, which both stand only a few meters from where the Berlin Wall once divided a city and a nation, were apt conference venues that served as reminders of the shared history and values that have bound the US and Germany - a partnership that AmCham Germany has promoted for over 115 years.

Free trade as a global force for good
From the start of the conference, it was clear: Free trade is much more than just an exchange of goods and services; it secures peace and freedom. It enables the free movement of ideas and, more importantly, fosters our ability to work together.

These were points made over and over, including by James Fitterling, CEO of The Dow Chemical Company, and Lisa Davis, Member of the Siemens Managing Board, who both traveled from the US exclusively to attend the conference.

In particular, Fitterling focused on global challenges - notably climate change and inequality - and riveted the audience with his compelling argument that free trade serves as the basis for international cooperation, which is urgently needed to tackle these challenges.

But trade has not been the cure-all many have hoped it would be. As Fitterling noted, the ideologies driving skepticism of free trade - nationalism, populism and protectionism - have been fosteredby the unequal distribution of trade's benefits; that's why it's crucial to "push for a new type of global trade, one that is both sustainable and equitable." And, Fitterling continued, "For trade to work and for trade to overcome the skepticism that threatens its future, trade must work for all." So what would be the solution? As Fitterling pointed out, governments should work to promote investment and workforce development to prevent communities from being left behind, an effort that would hinder fear and anger toward trade from taking root.

Davis also took a global perspective in her speech, remarking about the complexity of international supply chains and their role in fostering a company's ability to effectively and efficiently deliver solutions. In other words: Erecting barriers to trade would disrupt that ability and disserve customers and their communities. In contrast, trade agreements set transparent, fair rules, but, as Davis noted, a multilateral approach to them was crucial.

A look at US and German trade policies:
Different views, similar challenges

Urging everyone to remember the shared values of the United States and Germany, Dieter Kempf, the President of the Federation of German Industries, also stressed that nationalism and protectionism were the wrong directions to take. The bridges between the US and Germany should not be torn down but rather invested in, he said, highlighting the importance of organizations such as AmCham Germany that advocate for strong transatlantic ties.

With the conference taking place just days before the planned meeting between German automakers and President Donald Trump, speeches by US Ambassador to Germany Richard A. Grenell and State Secretary Dr. Ulrich Nußbaum from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy gave participants the opportunity to gain firsthand insights into the stances of both the US and German governments.

Grenell emphasized that the US remained committed to free trade as long as it was fair trade. At the same time, Nußbaum recognized that while the German and US governments have had different views, both countries were confronted with similar challenges. Win-win solutions could be created for both sides through negotiation and compromise, he said.

Europe needs a unified strategy
The conference ended by taking a deeper look at the role of Europe in terms of topics like trade and digitalization. For example, Theresa Fallon, Director of the Center for Russia, Europe and Asia Studies, called attention to China's Belt and Road Initiative and its heavy investment in eastern Europe. It was time for the EU to develop a unified strategy, she stated; the EU must become an active player, not a pawn, in geopolitics, trade and digitalization.

Conference participants also called on the Bretton Woods institutions, the IMF and the World Bank, as well as on the WTO, to modernize for the 21st century to better promote and protect free, rules-based trade - touching on points made earlier in the day by other speakers.

Great potential in the transatlantic partnership
The conference also featured live polls to collect direct feedback from company representatives about the opportunities for US-EU cooperation. Participants expressed, for instance, optimism about US investment, with more than half the audience indicating that their companies would expand business in the US next year. Participants also saw room for more collaboration in the automotive sector, digitalization, cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing.

When all is said and done, the critical point is this: The transatlantic business community must actively make the case for strong US-European ties. Or, as AmCham Germany President Frank Sportolari stated: "Talking on its own does nothing. We need to act." As the conference proved, AmCham Germany is the voice that will lead this action.

About the Transatlantic Business Conference
The Transatlantic Business Conference is a trusted forum for exchange about opportunities and challenges in the US-European marketplace. The event was hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Germany in cooperation with DIE WELT and the co-organizers Commerzbank AG, Deloitte and the BDI (Federation of German Industries).

With this conference, AmCham Germany provides a unique platform for top-level decisionmakers from business, government and think tanks to engage in dialogue and foster international collaboration. This year, the conference took place on Nov. 29 -30 in Berlin with the title "In Trade We Trust - Shaping the Global Marketplace in Times of Disruption."

Relevant Links:
Press Release (in German)
Photo Gallery
Live Poll Results
Speech by James Fitterling

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