BERLIN/GREIFSWALD, Germany (Reuters) - Berlin should be ready to seize new opportunities in Asia as Washington steps away from global trade deals, Germany's new foreign minister said on Friday, and Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany and the European Union would seek new trade deals.
Merkel told a meeting of her Christian Democrats (CDU) that Germany and the European Union would continue to work towards reaching new trade agreements with other countries because "we live from interdependence".
"We're banking on free, fair trade around the world," Merkel said at a CDU event in the northeastern city of Greifswald. Debates about the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) showed such deals brought more opportunities than risks, she said.
With concern growing over U.S. President Donald Trump's protectionist stance on trade, Merkel said it was clear that every country would take a tough stance in negotiations but all interests must be taken into account if countries want to engage in reciprocal trade.
Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel outlined his priorities in a first speech to diplomats since taking office from Frank-Walter Steinmeier, saying he looked forward to meeting U.S. Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson as soon as possible.
He did not confirm a report by the newspaper Handelsblatt that he would visit Washington next week and hold talks with Trump's administration. He will also meet Vice President Mike Pence and visit the United Nations during his U.S. trip, Handelsblatt reported, citing government sources.
"Whatever noises we're hearing from the United States, transatlantic ties must remain a key orientation," he said. "Our hand should remain outstretched for respectful cooperation based on ... openness, honesty and what our constitutions stand for - freedom, democracy and the rule of law, as well as mutual responsibility."
But he said Germany and Europe should stand ready to fill the void created by Trump's cancellation of a major trade deal with Asia and that may be created by other protectionist measures .
Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, enjoyed a close relationship with Merkel, but Trump's views on torture, free trade, NATO and his promise to lift Russian sanctions have raised concern among German officials.
In an interview published on Friday, Steinmeier, who is to take over the largely ceremonial post of German president next month, warned Trump against dismantling the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran.
Gabriel, who serves as Germany's vice chancellor and traveled to Iran in October, in his speech did not address Russia, which will be the focal point of a telephone call expected between Merkel and Trump on Saturday, a source said
Gabriel and his Social Democrats historically favor more dialogue with Moscow and have been more open to the idea of gradually reducing sanctions than Merkel and her conservative Christian Democrats.
Gabriel said he will begin his new post with a short trip to France on Saturday to underscore the importance of European cooperation and unity.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Erik Kirschbaum, Michelle Martin and Reuters TV in Greifswald; Editing by Larry King)