EU Parliament Votes in Favour of Trade Deal With Canada

Opposition groups vow to continue fighting CETA
February 15, 2017 Updated: February 15, 2017

OTTAWA—Canadian and European lawmakers are trumpeting the approval of the Canada-EU free trade deal by the European Parliament as a win for the values of openness in the face of anti-trade movements.

On Feb. 15, the legislature in Strasbourg, France, approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) by a margin of 408-254 with 33 abstentions. The vote clears a major hurdle for the deal that saw its first round of bargaining almost eight years ago and has had to overcome mounting anti-trade populism in Europe.

Canada’s Parliament is also expected to ratify CETA in the coming months, which means that 90 percent of the deal would come into force under what is known as provisional application—a key procedural step that allows the deal to take effect without the ratification of the European Union’s 28 member countries and numerous regional governments.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau planned to deliver his own pro-trade message in an address to the European Parliament on Feb. 16—a first for a Canadian leader—and to top business leaders a day later in Germany.

“This is the right deal at the right time. Good for workers, consumers, and a new standard for trade,” International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, who was already in Strasbourg ahead of the vote, said Feb. 15.

This is the right deal at the right time.
— International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom took direct aim at anti-globalization forces in remarks before the Parliament, in what appeared to be a thinly veiled rebuttal to U.S. President Donald Trump’s protectionist and anti-immigration policies.

“With Canada we share the democratic values of tolerance and openness. We cooperate in tackling common challenges such as migration, sustainable development, climate change, and terrorism,” she said.

CETA, as well as its companion strategic partnership agreement, would strengthen not only Canada-EU economic relations but our “geopolitical alliance … making that partnership deeper and more powerful, reaffirming our fundamental values, political principles, and using them to shape globalization,” she said.

She said the deal would help each side “serve its citizens” in the 21st century.

CETA opposition

Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, said groups such as hers would continue to oppose the deal.

“European opposition to CETA is strong and 38 national and regional parliaments still have to ratify the deal,” she said in a statement. “Referendums, legal challenges, elections, and other obstacles still stand in the way of implementation.”

CETA was nearly killed last October when the regional government in Belgium’s Wallonia region almost vetoed the deal.

Another anti-trade group, the Corporate Europe Observatory, called Feb. 15’s vote a sad day for democracy.

“The mobilization against CETA has been one of the strongest European democracy movements ever,” the group’s trade policy campaigner Lora Verheecke said in a statement.

“A glimmer of hope now comes from the many national and regional parliaments across all of the EU that still have to ratify CETA. Each one of them can bring it to a halt.”

Feb. 15’s vote should close the drawn-out approval process across the 28 member states, where some governments and legislatures had tried to modify or scupper the deal. The Netherlands could still block it if it demands an advisory national referendum on the deal.

The vote comes as populist parties in Europe and Trump in the United States have been looking increasingly inwards, thwarting a trade deal with Pacific countries and floating the idea of tariffs on imports.

 From The Canadian Press, with files from The Associated Press