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​Thousands of Germans Protest Trade Accords with U.S., Canada

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Dan Weil | FlashRatings | Saturday, September 17, 2016 4:24 PM EDT
It’s not just in the U.S. that anti-free trade sentiment is building. That’s happening in many countries around the world, as income languishes for the middle and lower classes.

A total of 320,000 people turned out in seven German cities Saturday to voice their opposition to a pair of free-trade plans--the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the U.S. and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), according to the rally organizers. The cities included Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and Frankfurt.

Opponents of the deals claim they would hurt the environment, lessen food safety, eliminate jobs and put downward pressure on wages. Proponents of the deals argue that they would keep prices down and boost German exports. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union recently fared poorly in local elections in part because of her support for the free trade agreements. 

Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the CDU's junior coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, opposes the TTIP. But he favors the CETA agreement as a way to compensate for China’s growing economic strength.

The European Union and U.S. have been working on TTIP since 2013, hoping to form the world’s biggest free trade market with 850 million consumers. The next set of talks begin in October, and President Obama hopes an accord can be completed before he leaves office in January. Meanwhile, CETA is set to be signed next month.

Economists such as former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers argue that free trade is important, though some of its benefits are oversold.