Merkel tells German industry she will fight for free trade

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel in Brussels, Belgium, January 12, 2017. REUTERS/David Stockman/pool

COLOGNE, Germany (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel told German industry leaders on Monday that she would remain committed to free trade in an indirect rebuttal to comments from U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s about border taxes on car imports.

Speaking to the German Chamber of Commence and Industry in the western city of Cologne, Merkel also urged industry leaders to remain supportive of the German government in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations between Britain and the European Union.

“We can’t let anyone divide us,” she said.

As far as free trade and open markets go, Merkel told the industrialists her government was determined to fight for them.

“We’ve got to fight this battle, if for no other reason than principle,” Merkel said, referring to Germany’s commitment to the free trade that has fueled its prosperity and helped make it one of the world’s leading export nations.

“I’m ready for that,” Merkel added, echoing words from her Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble earlier on Monday. Schaeuble issued a thinly veiled warning to Trump over the dangers of protectionist trade policies.

“Whoever wants growth - and I trust this administration will be a growth-friendly one - must be in favor of open markets,” Schaeuble told the Wall Street Journal in an interview. “Protectionism can afford short-term advantages but is almost always damaging in the long term.”

Merkel said she hoped German companies would take up the challenge.

In an interview with Bild newspaper, Trump warned German car companies he would impose a border tax of 35 percent on vehicles imported to the U.S. market. Trump criticized German carmakers such as BMW BMWG.DE, Daimler DAIGn.DE and Volkswagen VOWG_p.DE for failing to produce more cars on U.S. soil.

Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Alison Williams