Germany's Laschet sets goal of transatlantic free trade area

BERLIN, May 19 (Reuters) - Trade must be at the centre of a reset in transatlantic ties, and a large free trade area encompassing the United States and the European Union should be a goal, the leader of Germany’s Christian Democrats (CDU) said on Wednesday.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump halted talks on a proposed trade agreement between the EU and the United States, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and initiated a trade conflict with the EU.

Armin Laschet, who is the CDU’s candidate for chancellor at federal elections in September, said now was the time to renew the transatlantic relationship.

“Europe’s place is at the side of the USA, is at the side of Canada,” he said in a speech on foreign and security policy to the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, a political foundation associated with his CDU party.

“And we need a revival with new themes, with a new dynamic of the transatlantic relationship. And this will revolve around trade issues - a large free trade area as an ambition, but also a common climate foreign policy,” he added.

Insisting “we need a new relationship with Britain too, including on security issues,” Laschet also said that Russia could be a partner for the EU but that Moscow must be shown the limits of international rules.

Turning to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Europe, Laschet reiterated his position that “this is a commercial project”, and said Germany would need gas to bridge its transition to cleaner fuels.

Should his conservative bloc end up in coalition talks after September’s election with the ecologist Greens, Laschet said he would discuss Nord Stream 2 with their leader, Annalena Baerbock, who opposes the pipeline.

“If she thinks she wants to protect Ukraine strategically, I would agree with her,” Laschet said.

The project, now about 95% complete, would bypass Ukraine, depriving it of lucrative transit fees and potentially undermining its struggle against Russian aggression. (Reporting by Paul Carrel; Editing by Hugh Lawson)