MEPs set to approve Canada trade deal
By Eszter Zalan
MEPs are expected to approve Ceta, the EU-Canada trade agreement, on Wednesday (15 February), amid concerns about the US administration’s trade protectionism.
“I’m grateful for [US president] Trump. His attitude toward global trade opened the eyes, and urged sceptics to think twice,” Artis Pabriks, a centre-right Latvian MEP and the parliament's rapporteur for Ceta, told this website.
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The new US president has pulled out from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) with 11 countries and has been an opponent of TTIP, the EU-US trade deal under discussion.
“It’s a litmus test for the future of European Union,” Pabriks said, adding that it will show whether Europeans “are willing to join those who preach protectionism, who are willing build walls, who are willing to look inwards, or if [they] are the ones who want to go forward, it is the only way to go out of these challenges”.
Pabriks also argued that if Ceta fails, it would be difficult for the EU to conclude any other free trade agreement.
As Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau travels to Strasbourg to deliver a speech on Thursday (16 February), the EU and Canada are eager to show they still promote open and free global trade.
Trade, a non-controversial aspect of the EU’s powers for decades, has come under attack from populists, who argue that globalisation have hurt local labour force, as well as from transparency, labour right and environment advocates, who have said the EU’s trade deals are too opaque and threaten European standards.
Centre-right, liberal and conservative MEPs are expected to vote in favour of the accord, which the European Commission says will increase the EU GDP by €12 billion each year .
The social-democratic group also decided on Tuesday evening to back Ceta, despite opposition to the deal from the French, Belgian and Austrian delegations. Its leader Gianni Pittella argued that Ceta represents a key step forward.
However, strong concerns remain over the deal, especially with regards to labour and environmental standards, and the controversial investment court system, which is aimed at protecting investors if they think that state regulation might hurt their profits.
The Greens have said they would vote against the deal.
“The reforms [that have been implemented in the deal] are very small,” Ska Keller, co-chair of the Greens in the EP told journalists.
“An investor can still sue a government if its profits are hurt, but I cannot go to a court if my rights were harmed by an investor,” she argued, adding that national courts could also deal with investors’ complaints, and that there is "no need for a special tribunal".
Wait and see
While most of the accord’s chapters will come into force as early as April, provisional application means that for instance the investment court system, designed to protect investors, will not go into effect just yet.
Ceta still needs to be ratified by all EU national parliaments to enter into full force, a process that might take years.
Belgium, whose French-speaking Wallonia region’s 11th hour opposition to the deal almost derailed the accord last year, will turn to the EU’s top court to check if the court system is in line with EU law.
Pabriks argued that Belgium and other countries should wait a year of the provisional application before their national parliaments vote, to see that the deal delivers “good things”.
“I promise they will see only positive things, and maybe they will lose an appetite to use it for their internal political games,” he said of the Belgium’s plans to go to court.
Ceta has been seen as a possible template for the US-EU free trade deal, which has been under discussion for three years but is now most likely to never materialise under the Trump administration.
However, opponents argue that Ceta could still be used as a basis for other trade deals, a cause for concern for them.
Not everybody is in a celebratory mood.
Philippe Lamberts, the co-chair of the Green group said that Trudeau did not agree that leaders of the political groups intervene after his speech in the EP.
“Mr. Nice Guy doesn’t want to risk anybody in the assembly anybody contradicting him, he focuses on image more than on content,” Lamberts said.