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EU, Canada sign landmark trade deal

The treaty, which was years in the making, was nearly upended until a last-minute deal was struck to ease concerns from Belgium's Wallonia region that the trade deal would give too much power to multinational corporations.

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (l.) participates in a media conference with European Council President Donald Tusk, center, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (r.) during an EU-Canada summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Sunday.

Thierry Monasse/AP

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Canada and the European Union (EU) signed a landmark trade deal Sunday following years of negotiation and some last-minute hiccups.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is expected to remove some 99 percent of tariffs between the two entities, boosting Canada’s economy by $9 billion a year and the EU’s by $13 billion.

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While the deal is being hailed as a triumph of a new form of globalization by some, as well as a foundation for the floundering Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and the United States, critics are concerned by possible implications for the environment and other public policy matters.

“The signing of CETA is a historic occasion,” said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “This modern and progressive agreement will reinforce the strong links between Canada and the EU, and create vast new opportunities for Canadians and Europeans alike.”

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, was equally effusive, extolling the agreement in a Twitter post.

Work on the deal began in 2009, and the text was finalized two years ago, but it struggled to acquire the necessary endorsement. To approve such an agreement, the EU needs unanimous assent among its 28 member states.

Belgium also requires endorsement from all of its regions before it can agree to any such EU deal, and it was this criterion that threatened to stop CETA in its tracks at the final moment. Wallonia, a predominantly French-speaking area of Belgium with a population accounting for less than one percent of the EU’s total, refused to sign on until a breakthrough agreement on Thursday.

Yet the concerns raised by Wallonia – that CETA would undermine local standards on labor, the environment, and consumer protection, as well as allowing multinational companies to override smaller organizations and influence public policy – are not unique to that small corner of Belgium.

As EU and Canadian leaders signed the deal in Brussels, about 250 protesters gathered outside, blocking the front entrance and smearing red paint on the building; some even gained access to the foyer.

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Proponents of the deal argue that critics’ concerns are without foundation. The European Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström, for example, cited “the most ambitious sustainable development chapter ever negotiated, making clear commitments on social and environmental issues.”

In her blog post, Ms. Malmström also sought to address widespread dissatisfaction with globalization in general, saying that, instead of attempting to retreat into isolationism, we should seek to shape the future in a more sustainable manner.

“We … have two options,” wrote Malmström. “We can take an easier path and pretend that we can reverse the tide of globalisation, closing our doors to the world. Or we can take the more difficult path and try to shape globalisation according to our vision, while having honest and difficult conversations at home.”

CETA’s passage faces one last hurdle: Full implementation can only come into effect following clearance by more than 35 national and regional parliaments. But Sunday’s breakthrough should allow some 98 percent of the deal’s measures to take hold early next year in the form of a provisional arrangement.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.