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US, German Finance Chiefs at Odds Over Berlin's Trade Surplus

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, right, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew attend a news conference after a meeting at the Finance Ministry in Berlin, Jan. 8, 2014.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, right, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew attend a news conference after a meeting at the Finance Ministry in Berlin, Jan. 8, 2014.
VOA News
The U.S. and German finance chiefs are at odds over where Berlin ought to focus its powerhouse economy, Europe's largest.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew visited Berlin Wednesday and told his counterpart, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, that Germany needed to do more to promote domestic consumption and imports while trimming its trade surplus. Hours before they met, Germany said its trade gap - the value of exports over imports - widened to a near record $24 billion in November.

"We think that more domestic demand and investment would be a good thing. We have raised concerns about balances, the positive balances, in surplus economies generally," Lew said. "You know, I know it's a difficult balance here in Germany as it is in any country to get it right. And we continue to believe that policies that would promote more domestic investment and demand would be good for the German economy and the global economy."

The U.S. chronically runs a huge trade deficit, although it hit a four-year low in November at $34 billion.

Schaeuble rejected Lew's advice and said the American trade gap would not improve if Europe also imported more than it exported and recorded a trade deficit.

"The U.S. deficit is not getting better by adding a European deficit. Within the eurozone we don't have a positive German balance, but overall we work on a balanced situation," said Schaeuble.

Germany has been under growing pressure to boost domestic demand, to help its economically weaker neighbors in the 18-nation euro currency bloc looking to expand their own exports.

Lew visited Germany on a three-nation European trip that also includes stops in France and Portugal.

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