EU signs Canada trade pact, rejects 'post-truth' critics
The European Union and Canada signed a trade pact on Sunday (30 October), brushing aside concerns that the opening of markets could have negative consequences for European standards and economic interests.
The treaty, known as Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta), was endorsed by Canada’s liberal prime minister Justin Trudeau and top EU officials in Brussels.
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“It was not easy to get here. But as a Canadian proverb says, 'patience is a tree whose root is bitter, but its fruit is very sweet’,” said European Council president Donald Tusk, representing EU member states.
The deal was seven years in the making.
The signing ceremony was originally scheduled for Thursday, but had to be postponed when Belgium’s French-speaking Wallonia region used its devolved powers to veto Belgium’s approval of the deal.
Intense negotiations, ending in a special declaration on some of Wallonia’s key concerns, broke the deadlock.
Trudeau said he didn't hold grudges.
“The fact that people were asking tough questions on a deal that will have a significant impact on our economies, giving us the opportunity to demonstrate that that impact will be positive, is a good thing," he said.
EU officials were less forgiving.
Tusk said the negotiations “showed how important impressions and emotions are in the modern world”.
“It showed that facts and figures won't stand up for themselves alone. That post-factual reality and post-truth politics pose a great challenge on both sides of the Atlantic.”
About 100 people demonstrated outside the building where the summit was taking place. Some tried to storm the building and threw red paint at the facade to symbolise that democracy was bleeding.
“Free trade and globalisation have protected hundreds of millions of people from poverty and hunger,” Tusk said.
“The alternative to free trade is isolationism and protectionism, a return to national egoisms, and as a result - the threat of violent conflict.”
"We should be able to convince our citizens that free trade is in their interest, and not just big companies and corporations,” he added.
"Belgium should think about how it functions at the international level," European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker added.
The Luxembourg official said he was vexed over accusations that Ceta would lower labour standards.
Ceta will set a gold standard for the world’s future trade agreements, he said.
The deal removes 99 percent of tariffs on trade exports between the EU and Canada. It opens up service markets and introduces a special investment protection system, through a dedicated dispute settlement mechanism.
Officials hope it will increase trade by €10.9 billion a year.
Ceta will now be voted in the European Parliament. It can then be provisionally applied pending a ratification process by all 28 member states that will involve 38 national and regional parliaments.
That means the deal could still be derailed, not least by Wallonia.
See no evil
Thursday’s declaration cleared the way for Ceta to be signed, but it doesn't guarantee that Belgium will also ratify the treaty.
Through the document, Wallonia reserved the right to refuse the deal at a later stage, and said it wouldn’t implement the investment protection system, fearing it gives too much power to corporate interests.
Belgium will also ask the European Court of Justice to clarify whether the investment protection system is compatible with EU treaties.
During the weekend, Belgian media reported that EU commissioner for digital affairs, Gunther Oettinger, said that Wallonia was a ”micro-region run by communists blocking the rest of Europe” at a business dinner in Germany.
Some 2,100 cities and regions all over Europe have declared themselves “Ceta-free zones”.
Almost 3.5 million people have signed a petition to stop Ceta and TTIP, a similar EU trade deal with the US.