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Post-COVID-19: Trade in the World of New Normal


AmCham Germany Forum on Free Trade Agreements, Supply Chains and Geopolitics


On June 8, 2020, AmCham Germany hosted a Virtual Forum in cooperation with its partner Squire Patton Boggs on Post-COVID-19: Trade in the World of New Normal. At a time when new free trade agreements are being negotiated, the Forum focused on how international trade can be shaped in the "World of New Normal" and what goals individual players, especially the USA, EU, UK and China, are pursuing in their trade talks.

Participating in the discussion were Matthew Kirk, former UK Ambassador to Finland and Internaitonal Affairs Advisor at Squire Patton Boggs; Frank R. Samolis, Partner at Squire Patton Boggs and Senior Adviser at AmCham Germany; Rob Smith, President and CEO of Konecranes and Member of the Board of Directors of AmCham Germany; and Frank Sportolari, President of AmCham Germany. 

Beginning the discussion, Rob Smith commented on the upheavals we are currently witnessing - not just by COVID-19 but also social movements such as Black Lives Matter. "This is not a normal situation," Smith pointed out. "But it is the situation we are operating in." He provided examples of how his company, Kronecranes, has witnessed changes in trade and supply chains during the pandemic and was confident that global companies with a balance between export operations and local production will be able to adjust to any potential changing legal requirements - for instance, in the form of "Buy American" policies. 

Ambassador Kirk continued the discussion by providing an overview of current free trade negotiations, in particular with a focus on US-EU, US-UK and EU-UK trade talks. Against the backdrop of an increasingly paralyzed WTO, negotiations have been fraught by tensions and a political willingness to enhance trade and prosperity has been lacking by many parties. At the US-EU level, a great deal of work has been completed at the technical level; however, there has not yet been a real attempt to come together on core on issues such as agriculture and genetically modified foods.

Frank Sportolari reiterated the current uncertainty and pointed out how difficult it is for companies to know what the right thing to do is. With regard to COVID-19, he called for more cooperation and coordination of recovery measures. Currently, the tendency has been to erect walls, restrict movement and close borders. While this may have been the right move at the time, history has taught us that in the long run, unilateralism has never fixed problems. 

While touching on free trade agreements and the uncertainty posed by COVID-19, Frank Samolis also provided insight into current Section 301 national security investigations being conducted by the US government - for instance, with regard to digital tax measures in the EU, Brazil, India and Turkey. Samolis also provided an overview of the current status of US-Chinese trade talks, noting that both parties in the US Congress are looking for ways for companies to reduce their reliance on China and that the next US Administration - whether headed by Donald Trump or Joe Biden - is likely to continue with an aggressive approach to China.

At the end of the discussion, participants had an opportunity to ask their questions in a Q&A moderated by Katharina-Luise Kittler, Head of Communications and Government Relations at AmCham Germany. Questions focused on challenges presented by shfits in supply chains, the role of the European Union, expectations for the German EU Council Presidency and US reactions to a Chinese digital yuan.

AmCham Germany would like to thank its partner Squire Patton Boggs as well as all the speakers and participants for an insightful discussion!

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