Saturday

24th Feb 2018

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 for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  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.

Opinion

Greek government's steady steps to exit bailout programme

Growth predictions are positive, exports increasing, unemployment dropping and credit-ratings up, says the head of Greece's Syriza delegation to the European Parliament. Now the government in Athens is looking to design its own reform programme.

Analysis

We are not (yet) one people

Talks on the next EU budget will start on Friday. Brussels wants to do much more than before – and needs a lot more money. But arguing about funds won't be enough.

News in Brief

  1. EU calls for immediate ceasefire in Syria
  2. UK's post-Brexit vision is 'pure illusion', Tusk says
  3. EU leaders express solidarity with Cyprus in Turkey drill row
  4. EU to double funding for Sahel forces
  5. EU parliament president: 'The immigration problem is Africa'
  6. May to unveil EU departure strategy next week
  7. Pregnant workers may be dismissed, EU court rules
  8. Romanian minister demands anti-corruption prosecutor fired

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeAnkara Ban on LGBTI Events Continues as Turkish Courts Reject NGO Appeals
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. EU agrees budget to focus on defence, security and migration
  2. EU leaders nix transnational lists, cool on 'Spitzenkandidat'
  3. Regions chief: calls for smaller EU budget are 'impossible'
  4. Election fever picks up This WEEK
  5. EU-Morocco fishing deal casts doubt on EU future foreign policy
  6. EU leaders put 'Spitzenkandidat' on summit menu
  7. European far-right political party risks collapse
  8. The key budget issues on EU leaders' table

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  3. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  4. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  5. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  6. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  8. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  10. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  11. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission
  12. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEJC President Warns Europe as Holocaust Memory Fades
  2. European Free AlllianceNo Justice From the Spanish Supreme Court Ruling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  6. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  7. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  8. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  9. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  10. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society