The Cable

Germans Cut Off Commerce Secretary in Mid-Speech

Video of Wilbur Ross speaking at a conference in Germany went black after he went over time.

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Germans are sticklers for keeping on schedule. And those rules apply to the U.S. Cabinet, as well.

While speaking via videoconference to a business conference of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union Tuesday evening, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was cut off after 20 minutes. The reason given by Werner M. Bahlsen, head of the CDU Economic Council? “That was the U.S. secretary of commerce, who had promised us a 10-minute statement. As you saw, he spoke a bit slowly, so it took a bit longer.”

But it’s hard to believe the content of Ross’s speech didn’t play a role in the shutdown.  He repeated the familiar Trump critique about Germany’s trade surplus with the United States. He also blamed the World Trade Organization rules for favoring exporters over importers while calling for a free-trade agreement between Washington and Europe.

“As your biggest customer, we hope to obtain a larger share of your market,” Ross said. “We, as major trading partners of each other, should have a free-trade agreement.” (The United States and the European Union were in talks under the Obama administration on a big trade pact, but those are stillborn now.)

In her speech, Merkel rejected Ross’s criticisms. She also called for German companies to invest in America.

The crowd’s reaction to the cutoff was telling. When it happened, the blank screen was met with laughs and cheers.

And it’s hardly a sign that relations between Germany and the United States are improving ahead of the upcoming G-20 summit in Hamburg, where Merkel and Trump will cross paths; the German chancellor has already warned the talks with be “controversial.”

Photo credit: SEAN GALLUP/Getty Images

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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