Sunday

24th Sep 2017

Canada woos sceptical EU left on trade deal

  • (Photo: Paul Bica)

It’s still not sure that the EU-Canada summit, scheduled for 27-28 October, will actually take place.

The main point on the programme - a comprehensive EU-Canada free-trade agreement, CETA - is under pressure, even though negotiations officially finished in 2014 and, according to trade representatives on both sides, it is the best trade agreement the world has seen so far.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

But not everyone is convinced.

When EU trade ministers meet on Friday (23 September), they will discuss ways of taking CETA forward. Faced with widespread opposition to the agreement, the European Commission vowed, in July, to put the deal up for ratification not only by the two other EU institutions - parliament and council - but also national, and in some cases, regional assemblies.

As many as 38 entities could have their say over EU trade relations. The ministers will have to prepare for what to do if even one of these entities says no.

Scepticism is particularly rife in some of Europe’s wealthiest countries, Austria, France and Germany, who partly build their fortune on trade. But these countries are also at the forefront when it comes to social protection and fight against climate change, and their leaders, all social democrats, are afraid of losing their edge.

The European Parliament’s centre-left group is also still split on the deal.

Canada’s trade minister Chrystia Freeland, a social-liberal, has in the run-up to Friday’s informal meeting of trade ministers in Bratislava toured some of Europe’s difficult sells to promote her progressive trade agenda.

Progressives on two sides of the pond

When visiting the German social democratic party (SPD) convention in Wolfsburg on Tuesday, Freeland argued that CETA could set a new standard for international trade by putting labour and environmental standards at the centre of it.

In the end, CETA by and large survived a vote by SPD members, but they also asked to make some changes to the deal.

Senior German centre-left MEP Udo Bullmann was one of those who heard the Canadian minister’s speech.

”Progressive sometimes means different things on the two sides of the Atlantic. Our delegates therefore did not take it for granted that Mrs Freeland shares our understanding,” Bullmann, a member of the parliament’s economic affairs committee (ECON), told EUobserver.

”For us, social democrats, progressive trade serves wider public policy goals. We want to globalisation to be a driver of economic and social progress worldwide, the empowerment of citizens and driver of sustainable development.”

There were still some differences to be bridged, he said, but the Canadian minister had at least been convincing in her willingness to find solutions.

”Mrs Freeland is very conscious about how the European social model works and she is clearly getting why we want to preserve our environmental and consumer protection,” Bullmann said.

Ottawa already agreed last year to re-negotiate a part of the trade deal related to investment protection. The controversial investment-settlement protection system (ISDS) was taken out and replaced with a special court. Those talks concluded in February 2016.

Freeland this week adamantly ruled out that CETA could be subject to another round of negotiations. But she said it would be possible to offer guidance on how the agreement should be understood by issuing legally binding joint declarations on points of concern.

Joachim Schuster, another German left-wing MEP, told EUobserver that CETA had been salvaged by the change in Canadian government, in 2015, when Justin Trudeau’s liberal team took over.


”It’s possible to work with them and develop progressive initiatives. It hasn’t been always the case. Looking back on the first draft of CETA, it was rather of a neoliberal kind,” Schuster, who sits in the parliament’s international trade (Inta) committee, said.

Fair trade

Their concerns were echoed by social democratic Inta members from Austria and France.

”We want a CETA that serves ordinary people, not big companies, which improves people’s lives and redistributes wealth” Austrian centre-left MEP Karoline Graswander-Hainz told EUobserver. ”CETA isn’t there quite yet.”

”CETA is still far from the fair-trade principle we are fighting for,” said French centre-left MEP Emmanuel Maurel. ”I am concerned what it mean to increase trade with a country that uses shell gas, GMOs and pesticides.”

He said the text was still unclear on a number of points, such as how to set standards when the two parties diverged.

”CETA isn't specific enough that harmonisation means raising standards,” he said.

Maurel's views on CETA are more critical than his colleagues in the French government. President Francois Hollande and trade minister Matthias Fekl have taken issue with the EU-US trade agreement, TTIP, but back the one with Canada.

Maurel said that ”French socialists had to ask themselves questions”.

He also deplored that the deal had been negotiated without much parliamentary input.

Karoline Graswander-Hainz echoed these concerns.

”I think the real problem with CETA is that citizens and parliaments were badly informed and not taken seriously in the negotiations. The same can be said about MEPs. The only thing we can do is follow negotiations, submit non-binding resolutions and say yes or no in the end.”

”If the concerns of national, regional and local parliaments and civil society had been taken into account from the beginning, or if they would have had a real chance to feed into the debate and to be informed regularly and in details about the state of play, the situation might be different now,” she said.

The Austrian MEP said she was in favour of the commission’s proposal to speed up the ratification procedure and have CETA provisionally applied after receiving the European Parliament’s and council’s backing.

EU trade powers

”The European Parliament is directly elected by the European citizens and has been given the power to decide on EU trade policy. If we would have to wait three to five years until the ratification process in the member states is completed, we wouldn’t have an EU commercial policy,” she said.

But EU pre-approval only applied to parts on which the bloc had exclusive powers, she added. Clauses related to investment protection, for instance, would have to wait.

Would Austria, in the end, back the agreement?

”The situation in Austria is complicated,” Graswander-Hainz said.

The government is split on the matter, with chancellor Christian Kern - a social democrat - against, unless it's improved, and the Christian democratic vice-chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner in favour.

”What improvements chancellor Kern will get in the end and if it will be enough to approve CETA is unclear at the moment,” Graswander-Hainz said. ”But now the German SPD backed up CETA, it seems that chancellor Kern is out on a limb with his position.”

Interview

Canada trade deal is 'wrong enemy'

The EU's trade deal with Canada is coming under pressure from critics and member states, but the EP rapporteur argues supporters of protectionism are picking the wrong enemy.

Socialist MEPs split on EU-Canada trade deal

MEPs' first exchange of views on CETA revealed that the socialist block is still undecided on the deal, and Canada's visa obligation for Bulgarian and Romanian citizens looks like a major stumbling block.

EU admits 'unrealistic' to close TTIP deal this year

EU trade ministers said it was not realistic to finalise talks on the TTIP trade treaty before the end of the year. But they agreed to a similar deal with Canada and will take steps to have it ratified.

EU-Canada trade deal faces final hurdles

EU states could sign off the Canada-EU trade deal next week, if the consitutional court in Germany, or a Belgian regional parliament does not stop them.

Belgium breaks Ceta deadlock

[Updated] Belgian leaders signed a joint declaration, clearing the way for the government to sign the EU-Canada trade pact. Wallonia's leader Paul Magnette said it was a victory for his people, and the rest of Europe.

Investigation

EU bank accused of muzzling watchdog

An ongoing review of the the European Investment Bank's "complaints mechanism" could make the oversight branch less independent and less effective.

News in Brief

  1. EU to hail 'aspirations' of former Soviet states
  2. UK says credit downgrade was wrong
  3. Dutch state appeals ban on taking air-polluting measures
  4. May proposes 2-year transition period after Brexit
  5. May to call on EU's 'sense of responsibility'
  6. Catalonia has 'contingency plans' for independence vote
  7. Last German polls confirm Merkel's lead
  8. EU to step up sanctions on North Korea

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEEU Finance Ministers Agreed to Develop New Digital Taxation Rules
  2. Mission of China to the EUGermany Stands Ready to Deepen Cooperation With China
  3. World VisionFirst Ever Young People Consultation to Discuss the Much Needed Peace in Europe
  4. European Jewish CongressGermany First Country to Adopt Working Definition of Antisemitism
  5. EU2017EEFour Tax Initiatives to Modernise the EU's Tax System
  6. Dialogue PlatformResponsibility in Practice: Gulen & Islamic Thought
  7. Counter BalanceHuman Rights Concerns Over EIB Loan to the Trans Anatolian Pipeline Project
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina Leads the Global Clean Energy Transition
  9. CES - Silicones EuropeFrom Baking Moulds to Oven Mitts, Silicones Are a Key Ingredient in Kitchens
  10. Martens CentreFor a New Europeanism: How to Put the Motto "Unity in Diversity" Into Practice
  11. Access MBAGet Ahead With an MBA Degree. Top MBA Event in Brussels
  12. Idealist QuarterlyIdealist Quarterly Event: Building Fearless Democracies With Gerald Hensel

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Urges Bigger Global Role for Emerging Economies
  2. EU2017EEAre We Socially Insured in the Future of Work?
  3. European Jewish CongressFrench Authorities to Root Out "Societal Antisemitism" After Jewish Family Assaulted
  4. European Federation of Local Energy CompaniesClean Energy for All? On 10.10 Top-Level Speakers Present the Clean Energy Package
  5. UNICEFUp to Three Quarters of Children Face Abuse & Exploitation on Mediterranean Migration Routes
  6. Swedish EnterprisesEurope Under Challenge; Recipe for a Competitive EU
  7. European Public Health AllianceCall to International Action to Break Deadlock on Chronic Diseases Crisis
  8. CES - Silicones EuropePropelling the construction revolution with silicones
  9. EU2017EEEU 2018 Budget: A Case of Three Paradoxes
  10. ACCAUS 'Dash for Gas' Could Disrupt Global Gas Markets
  11. Swedish Enterprises“No Time to Lose” Film & Debate on How Business & Politics Can Fight Climate Change
  12. European Free AllianceSave The Date!! 26.09 - Coppieters Awards To... Carme Forcadell