CETA free trade deal signed

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) free trade deal between the European Union (EU) and Canada has finally been signed after Belgium’s objections were overcome.

Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, flew into Brussels yesterday to sign the CETA free trade deal with the EU after cancelling his earlier visit last Thursday morning when it appeared Belgium’s rebellious Wallonia region had scuppered the deal amid fears about a weakening of labour, environmental and consumer standards.

Protectionist worries about the competition Wallonian farmers would face from their Canadian counterparts is also thought to have been a key impediment to the planned signing of the CETA deal last Thursday.

The Prime Minister (PM) of Belgium, Charles Michel, managed to overcome the objections of his French-speaking regions, however, and gained “an agreement” to proceed at the last minute after CETA had briefly appeared to be dead.

The remaining 27 countries in the EU were already primed for agreement after seven years of negotiation on CETA and their greenlight has been taken as a given, enabling the signing ceremony to advance on Sunday 30 October.

Most import duties between the two trading blocs are expected to be removed early next year, barring any other unforeseen implementation difficulties.

CETA will eliminate 98% of tariffs between the EU and Canada, saving the former’s exporters EUR500m in duties annually. Its supporters say it will boost trade between the two by 20%, improving the EU economy by EUR12bn (£11bn) per annum and Canada’s by C$12bn (£7.4bn).

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau said the trade deal was “good news for Canada’s middle class” as he tried to overcome a perceived bias towards big business in the free trade deal, adding that: “Canadians and Europeans share an understanding that in order for real and meaningful economic growth [to advance], we need to create more good, well-paying jobs for our citizens.”

European Commission (EC) President, Jean-Claude Juncker, who heads up the executive arm of the EU hailed CETA as “a new chapter” in relations between the EU and Canada, opening up opportunities for “more than half-a-billion people on both sides of the Atlantic”.

The near collapse of the deal last week had left the EU open to accusations that it could not control its individual member states or be relied upon as to act as an negotiating partner for other countries wishing to do trade deals with the bloc.

Analysis: TTIP & the future

The future of the on-going Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations with the US, and even the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, had been called into question after last week’s near collapse of CETA, which the leader of Belgium’s Dutch-speaking Flanders region, Geert Bourgeois, had said made the EU a “laughing stock”.

The background to the CETA, TTIP and other such regional free trade deals, is the stalled World Trade Organisation (WTO) attempts to enact further liberalisation of global rules covering world trade and tariffs after globalisation took off in the 1990s. The political environment for grand globalisation deals is not as conductive as it once was for worldwide deals, prompting some to seek regional alternatives.

The popularity of Donald Trump in the US presidential election, and indeed the Brexit vote in the UK to leave the EU, are indications of a rising protectionist bent this decade.


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Mark Carney Bank of England