Germany criticises Trump orders on trade deficits, import duty evasion

German Economy Minister, Brigitte Zypries, speaks at the first day of the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue 2017 on March 20, 2017.
German Economy Minister, Brigitte Zypries, speaks at the first day of the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue 2017 on March 20, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

BERLIN (REUTERS) - US President Donald Trump's executive orders on trade deficits and import duty evasion are a sign that Washington plans to move away from free trade and international agreements, German Economy Minister Brigitte Zypries said on Saturday (April 1).

Trump instructed his administration on Friday (March 31) to study the causes of US trade deficits and clamp down on countries that abuse trade rules in two executive orders he said would open a new chapter for US workers and businesses.

Zypries said that while the executive orders were initially only reviews, "they show, however, that the US obviously wants to move away from free trade and trade agreements."

"We must seek constructive dialogue and explain that the reasons for the US trade deficit are not just abroad," the minister said, adding that she would raise the issue in talks with US counterparts during a trip to Washington in May.

For years, the United States has been importing more goods from Germany than it exports to Europe's biggest economy, due to the relatively strong competitiveness of German firms and the high demand among US customers for 'Made in Germany' goods.

The resulting US trade deficit with Germany has nearly doubled in the past 10 years from some 28.8 billion euros (S$42.9 billion) in 2006 to 49 billion euros in 2016, according to data from Germany's Federal Statistics Office.

Trump's trade adviser Peter Navarro has accused Germany of exploiting other countries through a "grossly undervalued" euro.

This sparked a sharp response from German Chancellor Angela Merkel who said the European Central Bank is in charge of the euro and the central bank is a politically independent body.

In a further sign of increased tensions between Germany and the United States, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel urged the European Union on Friday to consider filing a complaint with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against the United States over its plan to impose duties on imports of steel plate from five EU member states.