Wednesday

18th Jan 2017

Socialist MEPs split on EU-Canada trade deal

  • Latvian MEP Artis Pabriks said the Canada-EU trade deal compared favourably with the EU-US one. (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Parliament’s socialist group still has not decided if it will back the EU-Canada free trade agreement (CETA).

”We aren’t yet convinced that CETA’s investment protection system addresses all our concerns,” British Labour MEP David Martin told the parliament’s international trade committee on Wednesday (31 August).

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”We also want to know for sure that nothing in CETA forces privatisation of public services and prevents countries from reversing privatisation.”

It was the first time the parliament has debated the agreement, on which negotiations ended this spring. The European Commission hopes to sign the deal at an EU-Canada summit in October.

Socialist support is crucial for the deal to pass.

Marietje Schaake from the liberal group Alde urged MEPs to back the deal.

”To the colleagues who seem to think the deal can still be changed: negotiations are now over. Perfect can become the enemy of the good,” she said.

”If this derails the EU will no longer be a credible trade negotiation partner.

That would have considerable consequences for the EU and the planet. We would no longer be able to set modern standards for trade deals.”

Trade under pressure

Anti-trade and eurosceptic feelings are rife in Europe. Almost half the population opposes the deal being negotiated with the US known as TTIP, the latest Eurobarometer survey suggests.

TTIP came under additional pressure on Tuesday when France said it will officially request that negotiations are brought to a halt.

Paris is troubled by the lack of public support and the failure of American counterparts to budge on key EU demands.

But the French government still supports CETA.

Justin Trudeau's government has gone much further to accommodate EU wishes than the Americans.

Artis Pabriks, a centre-right Latvian who serves as the parliament’s CETA rapporteur, stressed that Canada had agreed to open its public procurement market for EU business and exclude some sensitive sectors, such as healthcare and culture, from the deal. The EU was also able to protect its food heritage by 145 geographical indicators (GIs).

All of these are still matter of dispute in the EU-US talks.

French MEP Yannick Jadot warned, however, against stereotyping.

”It’s not a simple story of nice Canadians and evil Americans,” he said, and added that the deal would increase medicine costs in Canada by 10 percent, and that Canada is suing the US under a similar investment protection system after the Obama administration stopped a planned US-Canada pipeline for environmental reasons.

Visa issues

Romanian MEP Iuliu Winkler, from the EPP group, meanwhile said Canada did not treat all EU member states alike as it had not scrapped a visa requirement for Bulgarian and Romanian citizens.

”Ottawa seems to be using an old map of the EU, with only 26 countries,” Winkler said. ”Please send them a new one,” he told the commission representative Ignacio Garcia Bercero.

Even if visa liberalisation isn't part of CETA, Bulgaria and Romania have threatened to block the ratification, unless their citizens are granted visa free travel.

Some MEPs also protested against the idea that CETA would be provisionally applied, pending ratification by national and regional parliaments.

The European Commission said in July that the deal only needed to be approved by the EU Parliament and Council. But it still would put the text to a vote by national and some regional assemblies.

In order to speed up the implementation process, the Commission will ask the Council to approve a provisional application of the agreement, once it has been approved by the EU institutions.

Dutch far-left MEP Anne-Marie Mineur found that undemocratic.

Other MEPs protested, saying the European parliament was an elected body and its approval would be enough to warrant provisional application of the trade treaty.

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