WASHINGTON, DC: US President Joe Biden points to staff members from the South Lawn as he departs the White House Friday in Washington, DC. – AFP

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration is under pressure from a major business group and diplomats to scrap a travel ban on Europeans, as investment from the continent in the United States plunged by nearly a third last year. While countries in the European Union have reopened their borders to Americans who are vaccinated or test negative for COVID-19, the United States has not reciprocated, to the frustration of the business world.

The US Chamber of Commerce on Friday urged Washington to allow the return of European travelers "as soon as possible." "The resumption of safe transatlantic travel is critically important for our nation's economic recovery, as in-person business engagements and international tourism will help drive economic growth and job creation for Americans across the country," said Marjorie Chorlins, the chamber's senior vice president for European affairs. Travelers from the Schengen zone, Britain and Ireland have been banned from entering the United States since March 2020. Also banned from entry are travelers from South Africa, Brazil, China, India and Iran.


The EU ambassador to the United States, Stavros Lambrinidis, told AFP that Brussels is "pushing" for reciprocity, and emphasizing the positive impact such a move would have on both economies. "Our economies and people are deeply interconnected, and our vaccination rates are the highest in the world-it would be crucial to safely open up this side of the Atlantic too as we both kick-start our economies," he said.

During President Joe Biden's visit to Europe last week, the EU stressed that the bilateral economic relationship is the largest in the world, making up a whopping 42 percent of both global GDP and global trade in goods and services. But beyond trade, huge investments are at stake.


"Mutual investment dwarfs trade and is the real backbone of the transatlantic economy," noted a 2021 joint report from the US Chamber, AmCham EU, Johns Hopkins University and the Wilson Center think tank. Mutual investment "has become essential to US and European jobs and prosperity," it added.

Europe accounted for more than 60 percent of foreign direct investment flowing into the United States in the first three quarters of 2020. But compared to the same period from the previous year, investments from the continent plunged to $81 billion in 2020 from $120 billion in 2019, a drop of 32.5 percent. On Friday, during a visit to France, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed hope that Europeans will soon be able to visit the United States again.

"I hope that this will happen quickly. We really want to. I hope it will be a matter of weeks rather than months," he told an online forum in fluent French. But he pointed to the rise of the Delta variant, which first emerged in India and has caused renewed concerns in Western countries. "We are of course worried about the Delta variant and following its movement closely," Lambrinidis noted.

He pointed out that vaccinated people are "well protected" against the variant. Instead of closed borders, he called for speeding up inoculation campaigns, masking and social distancing. For their part, airlines insist traveling by plane remains safe. "Numerous scientific studies have validated that air travel presents a low transmission risk," a United Airlines spokeswoman said.

"As the vaccine becomes more widely available, now is the time to implement a reopening strategy for the benefit of both the economy and the traveling public," she added. In a sign that United is optimistic about the reopening of US borders, it recently added flights to destinations in France, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Iceland and Portugal. - AFP